A renaissance of the small farm

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Angela Christensen explores the renaissance of small farms in the southwest.

This multimedia piece dissects the dominant model of modern American agriculture. It details the detrimental effects of this model on a worldwide scale and illuminates a glimmer of hope by showcasing the lives and stories of small-scale farmers practicing sustainable agriculture, despite the trend in America toward an industrial food model. USDA Secretary Earl Butz, who preached the “get big or get out” mantra in the 1970s in response to the prior Roosevelt administration’s supply management policies, led Americans to believe they needed to feed the world. The outcome, a large-scale agricultural production system, drove millions of small farms into bankruptcy and crippled the Earth’s ecosystems.

American agriculture is in a crisis. Yet John Ikerd, professor emeritus of agricultural economics at the University of Missouri, Columbia argues that within the crisis lies an opportunity. Industrial agriculture is criticized for polluting water, eroding soil, poisoning humans and displacing cultures in other countries. Over the past two decades, a renaissance of the small farm and the new agrarian has emerged; yet we forget the existence of small-scale farmers and ranchers who never succumbed to industrialization.

It is important we hear the stories of those individuals who made small-scale, sustainable agriculture work in a time when it was largely discouraged. Small-scale farmers practicing healthy agriculture do not just grow food but are also stewards of their land and members of their communities. Reacquainting communities with their farmers and the land is a critical step in fostering a moral regard and ethical consideration to do what is “right.”

Growing food for others seems to have lost its importance in this consumer-driven, fast-paced society. If our communities are to advance the importance of healthy environments, people and the economy, it is imperative we address how our food is grown and who grows it. The following stories provide inspiration, hope and lessons for the renewal of the small farm, as well as a healthy future for our food system, the planet and each other.


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