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Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Small Farms vs Industrial Farms

For years I have read the argument that Industrial farms are the most efficient way to produce food. That compared to, say 75 years ago a farm could produce food for 5 people, today's farms produce food to feed 125 per farm. That does sound good but I have noticed that this number may not be as good as it sounds

The farms of yesterday were diversified, smaller and I believe fed far more than 5 people as these farms did support the families living on them. And these families averaged around 8 people, not 5. So right there I wonder where these number are coming from? Are they just arbitrary pulled from someone's butt? (you would be surprised how often that happens-the 3 year transition period before a farm is certified organic is one such arbitrary number and really means nothing as it really takes 7 to 15 years to get soils in organic shape, especially if they were subject to conventional/chemical farm management) or did someone do some real research and find that the farms on pre WWII really did feed only 5 people?

I am pretty convinced that these numbers have been hatched by proponents of the Green Revolution and are based on nothing of substance. I say this because I have been running these numbers in my head and what I come up with is that small diversified farms feed more people per acre than the big "efficient" Industrial farms.

For example, lets say a pre WWII farm (that feeds only 5 people) is 100 acres (which is pretty much the average size of farms at this time). Now the modern mono-cropped farm of 4000 acres (pretty much the average size of a modern farm or the combination of all rented and owned land that a Midwestern farmer will work) feeds 125 people. pretty good right? A lot more people than that paltry 5 of the old fashioned diversified farm.

Ah but lets look at how many people per acre these farms are feeding. if we extrapolate the numbers we see that perhaps the industrial mono-cropped does not produce as much per acre as a small diversified farm. For if a 100 acre farm can produce enough food to feed 5 people 40 of those farms would produce enough to feed 200. I believe 200 is greater than 125 and thus we see that smaller diversified farms can indeed outproduce the big industrial mono-cropped farms

1 comment:

Joanne Rigutto said...

Good points! In addition to the points you make, I also have to think about those large farms producing only one or two products (crops). If a farm is growing corn, soy, a few types of vegetables, chickens, pigs, etc. unless a person is prepared to eat only corn, or soy, or chicken, etc. then the big farm isn't actually feeding anyone. It's only producing a little bit of the food that a person is eating. And if the farm is producing feed grains, it's not actually feeding anyone anyway, it's feeding livestock which may or may not be slaughtered for human consumption.