I’d like to preface this by saying that I support ALL farms. Big farms, small farms, first generation farms, seventh generation farms, conventional farms, organic farms; they’re all helping to combat food insecurity in their own ways, and they all deserve recognition for their contributions! However, we consumers are often put in a position where we have to choose which type of farm we want to support with our food dollars. When given the choice, I would encourage you to choose to purchase from small farms. Here’s why: small farms have big economic impacts.
Support for small farms translates to support for entire communities. A dollar in the pocket of a small dairy farmer may be spent at the hardware store up the road, the local feed mill, or the tractor dealership in the neighboring town. That dollar stays in the regional economy, helping local businesses to thrive. Large farms tend to be vertically integrated, meaning that they handle their own supply or distribution stages, and thus aren’t dependent on other businesses to meet those needs. Vertical integration is great in theory, as it allows the farms to control their costs and leads to increased efficiency. Vertical integration can also spell disaster for rural communities. For example, a hundred small farms purchasing their grain from the local feed mill will keep the feed mill profitable, but if most of those hundred small farms are acquired by one large farm that produces its own grain, the feed mill will have to close its doors. The few small farms that remain will be left without a feed supplier and may end up closing their doors as well.
Another impact that small farms have on their communities is employment opportunity. Small farms employ more people per acre than do large, industrialized farms. (Fortuna) More job opportunities in rural communities lead to lower poverty rates, lower unemployment rates, and fewer people moving away in search of gainful employment. Technically, small farms are less efficient than large farms because the costs of labor and other inputs are higher per unit of product, but this doesn’t mean that small farms are inefficient by any means. The efficiency difference is marginal in most cases. This may mean that we consumers pay a little bit more for products from small farms, but that’s ok with me.
I’m not saying that large farms are “the bad guys”. On the contrary, I applaud them for successfully growing their businesses. What I am saying is that many small farms can be a force for good in rural communities, and that collectively, their impact is greater than that of a few large farms. Because of this, the small farms win my food dollars every time, and you should consider giving them yours, too!
Fortuna, Carolyn. “Economic and Social Impact of Family Farms – and Their Loss.” The Inspired Economist, 26 Apr. 2019, inspiredeconomist.com/2017/01/12/economic-social-impact-family-farms-loss/#:~:text=Economic%20instability%3A%20Areas%20having%20more,is%20spent%20in%20the%20community.