At Home in Nature

  (Agate, Colorado)
TwoInTents Blog
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Last stand of the unmechanized American small farm

At our farm stand it occured to us that the american small farm is a dying breed, and the USDA agreed.  Very small vegetable and fruit farms focus on the labor-intensive non-mechanized crops while larger farms undertake mechanized agriculture, encouraging US farms to both get larger and smaller in the future.  Currently, 8% of all farms produce 87% of all the fruits and vegetables on very large acres, and 68% of farms produce 1% of all produce on less than 4 acres. 

Mir Ali and Gary Lucier of the USDA ERS will report in their study, Vegetable Production Concentrated on Very Large Farms (Amber Waves , June 2011) that because an increase in the size of a vegetable and fruit farm of about 3 acres corresponds with an increase in production of nearly $250,000, vegetable and fruit production is encouraged to be on as many acres as possible. 

Surprisingly, the improved economy of scale has less to do with the expanded land size than the very large value of the crops and their relative high profit margins.  “For example, during 2007-09, the average per acre farm value of U.S. fresh-market field tomato production was $12,238, meaning that a farm with just 82 acres of fresh tomatoes could have farm sales in excess of $1 million. In contrast, about 1,500 acres of sweet corn for processing would be required to reach $1 million in sales,” say the doctors in their study.  This means that commodity crops are encouraged to large acreages by economy of scale, but fruit and vegetable production is encouraged by different pressures to become larger.

Which explains why there is also downward pressure towards smaller farms too: there is an economy of decreasing and also increasing scale.  There is a very large number (68% of the entire farmer population) of small farms (less than 4 acres) which are satisfied by average incomes of less than $40,000 because they have fewer costs of machinery, labor and other expenses: very small farms can undertake the labor by hand because those productions have not yet been mechanized and large farms have to also undertake the labor by hand.


The best gardening and farming book EVER

If you ask us, and we do get asked a lot, the best book to learn about farming and gardening (or to learn a few new tricks if you're a life long farmer or gardener) is to go to the source: Jethro Tull's Horse Hoeing Husbandry, the first, and still the best, book on modern scientific agriculture.  It's available on Kindle for just under $2 at

The book teaches you how to farm and garden better - and the science behind why.  Covering everything from soil science to harvesting and marketing, from training draft animals to training better roosters, the most basic algae to the most complex agroecology, the history of agriculture gains new relevance when updated with modern science.


Drivers licenses for 14 year old farmers

Farmers who employ their children (or children self-employed in agriculture) may now obtain drivers licenses from the State of Colorado for transportation between the farm and their residence on the most direct route.  The same rules that apply to all underage drivers applies to these young farmers, including passenger limits.

HB 11-1024, sponsored by Representative Vigil and Senator Brophy, does not make allowance for urban farmers, granting this right to only children residing on land zoned Agricultural.  Even still, this will ease the burden on labor-strapped farms, which rely on family (sometimes 14 year olds) to operate, freeing older and more experienced labor (such as parents or older siblings) to do more complex work.

Senator Brophy, a farmer and mountain biker, has sponsored other bills include limiting liability for bikers and eliminating taxes on most agricultural products and clearly this fits right in with his other work towards empowering people to be personally responsible.  Representative Vigil also has a strong focus on agricultural matters, and an emphasis on personal responsibilities. 

Whether 14 year old drivers will live, and live up to the high expectations for personal responsibility of these two men will be seen.

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