• Small farms are more efficientthan large farms, say the few studies that have actually compared them. When economists measure a farm's use of capital, land and labor, they find that large farms are very inefficient.
• Small farms promote regional economic development. In farming communities dominated by large corporate farms, nearby towns die off. Mechanization means fewer local jobs, and absentee ownership means that settled farm families themselves are no longer to be found. In these corporate-farm towns, the income earned in agriculture is drained off into larger cities to support distant enterprises, while in towns surrounded by family farms, the income circulates locally, generating more local businesses, schools, parks, churches, clubs, and newspapers, along with better services, higher employment, and more civic participation.
• Small farmers are better stewards of natural resources. The small farm landscape is typically filled with biodiversity. The wood lot, the orchard, the fish pond, the backyard garden, large and small livestock, and the farm itself with its varied crops allow for the preservation of hundreds if not thousands of wild and cultivated species. The commitment of family members to long-term soil fertility on the family farm is not found on large farms owned by absentee investors. In the US, small farms devote 17 percent of their land to woodlands, compared to only 5 percent on large farms. Small farms maintain nearly twice as much of their land in soil-improving uses, including cover crops and green manures.
– Peter Rossett, Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy
Adapted from “Small is Bountiful,” The Ecologist, December 1999; and from Food First Policy Brief No. 4, “The Multiple Functions and Benefits of Small Farm Agriculture in the Context of Global Trade Negotiations” (http://www.foodfirst.org/en/node/246), both by Peter Rosset.