Small Farms Turn Organic to Survive

Battered by volatile markets and relentless corporate consolidation, many family farms are turning to organic cultivation — and joining organic cooperatives — to survive. According to farm advocacy group Farm Aid, the number of family farms in the U.S. has declined from 8 million to 2 million in the last 50 years; an average of 330 family farms a week go out of business. Meanwhile, the market for organic food has grown by 20 percent a year for the last four years; organic farms now account for 5 to 7 percent of all agricultural cultivation in the country. Putting two and two together, many family farms are moving to organic and joining organizations like Wisconsin-based Organic Valley, the nation’s largest organic farm cooperative. The shift to organic methods can be a substantial effort — three years with no pesticides on crops, one year with no antibiotics or hormones in livestock, and a great deal of paperwork — but participating farms enjoy stabilized prices, a growing niche market, and, of course, a bit of moral and environmental satisfaction. Says dairy farmer Theresa Westaby, “It’s about being healthy and doing the right thing.”