Farm Growth Up?

Number of Farms Increasing
Presented in writing by Glenn Harden at the Lane Pomona Meeting, January 1, 2014

Sisters and Brothers,

The founding purpose of the Grange was to unite and protect small farms and farm families from abusive railroad monopolies, unfair competition by much larger agricultural operations, and flat out indifference by our federal representatives.  From the beginning we realized that our founding traditions of fellowship, tolerance, goodwill and unity were essential in order to build consensus among all our members and provide our state and national grange lobbyists with clear, concise and unambiguous policy directives.

During the 19th century, gains in U.S. food production mostly came from a rapid increase in the number of farms. Then, with the development of hybrid crops in the 1920s and the rise of new fertilizers and mechanized tools, farms became vastly more productive. Ever since, the U.S. farm count has been plunging.  According to the USDA, large farms (defined as 500 acres or greater) have been steadily replacing small and mid-sized farms since the 1970s. We’ve been able to produce more and more food on fewer farms.

Over the past decade, however, that trend appears to have bottomed out and might even be reversing itself.  2012 Census data suggests that smaller farms are beginning to make a comeback—perhaps driven by the $1 billion boom in local farmers’ markets—while medium-large farms are dwindling.

Since 2002, the number of farms in the U.S. has risen 4 percent, reversing a long-standing decline. In fact, this is the first time that the overall number of farms has risen since 1935, when the Great Depression temporarily pushed many Americans back to the fields:

My wife and I joined our local grange 6 or 7 years ago and have been enthusiastic supporters of our Grange and have been instrumental in starting a growers market and a number of popular events such as a successful community pancake breakfast, a harvest festival and a very popular barn dance series.  Similar efforts have taken place in a growing number of granges in Oregon, Washington, Maine and Vermont and especially in California where thousands of young people are enthusiastically restoring Grange halls, holding community breakfasts and picnics, dances, regional talent shows, musical and theater events, gardening, cooking and dance classes, food banks, bartering, seed swaps and more.  These are folks that have made a commitment to small-scale farming and the backbone of a movement to revitalize granges in that state.  I believe we can and should be mirroring that effort with our subordinate granges here in Lane County and urge everyone here today to focus our efforts on appealing to this new generation of small farmers and the significant membership potential they represent.

Glenn Harden
Spencer Creek Grange #855
Eugene, OR

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