Key Components of a National Policy for Small Farms
Food Systems, and Rural Development
W. K. Kellogg Foundation
Battle Creek, Michigan
It is a pleasure to be here today, and I would like to congratulate the planning committee for an excellent Small Farm conference and a very well attended one. In my brief comments, I will set the context for the serious discussion of the components of a Small Farm Policy, the challenges institutions face, and ways we can learn from each other as we move toward this important policy discussion. Additionally, I want to mention the lessons learned from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation's work in Food Systems and Rural Development
Context of Small Farm Policy
The focus of small scale agriculture usually stands in contrast to large production agriculture. Most often we hear about small farms versus large farms, and the context immediately progresses to a "we versus they" scenario. I suggest we review agriculture, and especially small family farm agriculture, from another angle and ask the question "Where does small scale agriculture fit into the overall picture in America, especially rural America?" One way might be to contrast rural America at-large with farming dependent counties
within the United States. Such a contrast is very revealing. The farming dependent counties are few, and most are situated in the Midwest.
However, rural America comprises more than 80% of the nation's land mass.
The data indicates that small-scale agriculture plays an important role in rural America, even though it is part of a larger whole. Farm families engaged in small-scale agriculture contribute significantly to the viability, sustainability, and to the quality of life in rural America. I believe these contributions toward rural communities are far greater than the ones made to overall agriculture production. Small farming is akin to small business development.
As you know, the leading economic indicators show that real growth in employment opportunities come from the development of small business and not large corporate business; although, larger business gets the media coverage. Additionally, the Economic Research Service of the USDA reports that only 10% of rural income comes from farm related jobs.
Those of you who do farm know the majority of income to farm families comes from off-farm sources, such as spouses who hold jobs off the farm.
Small scale farming provides rural communities with diversified economic development opportunities that I am not sure either the community or farm families have taken advantage of. Examples of how small-scale farming can help the local economy include: (a) lessening the dependence on vulnerable, global food systems, (b) diversifying economic development for rural areas,
(c) maintaining the environment and social structure of rural areas, (d) keeping people from migrating out of rural communities, (e) producing specialized crops which can be grown locally in a socially just and ecologically sound manner not possible in large scale agriculture, and (f) by understanding the local ecosystem and practicing ethics of land stewardship, use small scale agriculture to make rural communities the centers of education and culture.
While small-scale farming is essential to rural America, there are some challenges that must be faced. One challenge is how can small-scale farmers blend their needs with those of more traditional economic development organizations? Another is urging institutions, which were created to serve rural communities, to help not only farm families, but the communities become more involved in enhancing the local economy. A third challenge is helping local economic development organizations work to expand markets for local small farming. Extension and research can be key players in addressing these challenges; however, small farm production must also
become a top priority to land grant institutions.
Access to capital and other resources must be made available to make small production a viable option. As I mentioned, marketing is important to both big and small farming. However, the approach small farmers take is very different from that of large farmers. Extension and Research can help by providing broader support services to all small farmers; not just those with a unique but limited niche of specialty fruits and vegetables for the high-end market. This may require institutions to:
(a) create cooperative ventures, (b) organize planning efforts, and (c) develop locally controlled value-added enterprises.
Creating a Small Farm Policy
As you begin developing a small farm policy, it is important that agriculture leaders set the tone and create an inclusive process that encourages listening and learning from all parties involved. The following are a few suggestions: (a) Create a process that engages the small scale farmers. . . both women, men, and youth. It is youth who will be the future of small scale farms,
(b) Set aside dollars for small farming,
(c) Create ways that institutions can respond to the needs of small scale farming through land-grant universities, (d) Utilize regional rural development centers, (e) Hold conferences and meetings like this one, (f) Adapt food and nutrition programs to work with small farmers and farmers' markets,
(g) Connect small farmers with urban people, (h) Increase understanding of the direct and indirect costs/benefits of the different kinds of agriculture systems (i.e., spills from manure holding tanks from hog confinement operations, nitrate contamination of groundwater due to over abundant use of fertilizers), and (i) Remember that 20% of farms produce 80% of the food. It is important to include the other 80% of farmers into the mix when discussing the future of agriculture.
I want to conclude my remarks by reviewing some of the lessons the W. K. Kellogg Foundation has learned by funding the 28 Rural America projects funded in the early 90s.
(a) Cooperation is necessary, but sometimes it is hard when our world is based on competition, (b) Collaboration takes a long time, but so much more can be accomplished when collaboration
occurs, (c) Individuals and groups must connect with others; and struggling with the same issues, they find they can create their own solutions, (d) Leadership is a key component to systems change, and (e) There is an interdependency between rural and urban areas.
The W. K. Kellogg Foundation encour-ages and supports the important dis-cussion about small and family farms and the policy implications they represent for both agriculture and rural America. Ultimately, the goal of a small farm policy must be to enhance the viability and sustainability of the family farm.
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