Recent reports by the National Research Council detailed the need for small, sustainable farms in order to guarantee a viable future for the American agricultural sector. Particularly worrisome was the long-term ramifications of increasingly large agribusinesses. The stresses placed on natural resources and the damage done to the environment, according to the group, were not sustainable in the long-term.
Small farms, however, are increasingly rare in the United States. The majority of American food is grown by large-scale agribusinesses rather than small, sustainable farms. The pressures to stay in business, which include rising fuel costs, weak local economies, and difficulty competing with larger rivals, have driven many small farmers out of business.
However, some innovative farmers have found unique ways to remain profitable without having to rely on profits from the sale of agricultural products. Increasingly, many small farms have turned to tourism to remain in business, relying on curiosity from locals to boost dwindling revenue.
Jim and Christie Maguire of San Luis Obispo County, California run a bed and breakfast out of the farm, using money from guests to pay for livestock feed. Other farmers offer corn mazes, haunted houses, pick-it-yourself outings, and other types of agri-tourism to make ends meet. According to the Department of Agriculture, these efforts are necessary. In a recent agricultural census, the USDA found that the average farm household only gets 13 percent of its income from the farm. Over the last five years, as a result of the decline in small farming, the use of agri-tourism has exploded, with average revenues rising from only $7,000 to well over $27,000.
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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer