Small farms are great start-ups. Our farming population is aging dramatically in Virginia and the U.S. and many farm-raised kids choose not to continue the tradition.

But we are noticing another trend in people who didn’t grow up on a farm who would like to become farmers. Small farms present new opportunities for the younger generation. It’s a lot easier to get started when you don’t need as much land and capital.

A corn or soybean farmer may need hundreds of acres, but a vegetable farm can prosper with fewer than 30 acres. You might be surprised on the income just an acre of asparagus can produce.

I know a farmer in Surry County who grew up helping his father farm about 1,000 acres of row crops. After college, he decided he wanted to keep on farming, but wanted to do it on a smaller scale. He has fields of pick-your-own vegetables and berries. He sells directly to the public on the farm and at a farmers’ market and he sells to restaurants.

He also adds value to his strawberries by making some of the best strawberry ice cream I’ve ever tasted. (I think the 16 percent butterfat helps.)

He has capitalized on several important concepts: cut out the middle man by selling directly to the public; keep it local; add value to your basic products; minimize your risk by growing a variety of products.

He can always expand, but for the foreseeable future, smaller is better for him and his family.

So again I ask, why would anyone think we need to choose between small farms and large ones? They both are extremely important to Virginia’s largest industry, agriculture, and to give up one for the other would have grave consequences for the industry as a whole. 

My message when traveling across the state is simple: there are more than seven billion people in the world, with more than 300 million in the U.S. 

We need all types of agriculture…large and small…to feed them all. One group of farmers can’t afford to be critical of those farmers who do it differently than they do. We all play a role and need to celebrate our differences instead of arguing over which is better. 

That diversity of agriculture is what makes our industry so unique and so successful. This is not a choice we need to make because, remember, we’ve all got a place in the choir.

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