THE ECONOMIC PAMPHLETEER: Can Small Farms Be Sustained Economically?


  • John Ikerd University of Missouri, Columbia



Sustainability, Livelihoods, Economics, Small Farms


First paragraphs:

Are small farms economically sustainable? Not according to a recent opinion piece in the New York Times written by Bren Smith, a small-scale farmer: "The dirty secret of the food movement is that the much-celebrated small-scale farmer isn't making a living. After the tools are put away, we head out to second and third jobs to keep our farms afloat...Health care, paying for our kids' college, preparing for retirement? Not happening" (Smith, 2014, para. 2).

Another widely shared opinion piece by a small-scale farmer, Jaclyn Moyer, began: "People say we're 'rich in other ways,' but that doesn't fix the ugly fact that most farms are unsustainable" (Moyer, 2015, para. 1). Jaclyn was asked by a student if her farm was sustainable. She replied that her farm was certified organic and conserved water, but later reflected: "I didn't think my farm was sustainable. Like all the other farms I knew, my farm relied on uncompensated labor and self-exploitation...I knew the years my partner and I could continue to work without a viable income were numbered" (Moyer, 2015, para. 22).

Both Smith and Moyer were distressed by how much work was required for the small amount of money they were able to earn on their small-scale farms. They both claim that few farmers they know are able to make what they consider an acceptable income farming. However, many non-farm couples both work long hours at good-paying jobs and are barely able to make ends meet. It takes all of their time and energy to earn enough money to support their chosen lifestyle—much like many farm couples. What matters is whether such couples are able to pursue their chosen way of life, not how much money they earn and spend in the process....


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Author Biography

John Ikerd, University of Missouri, Columbia

John Ikerd is professor emeritus of agricultural economics, University of Missouri, Columbia. He was raised on a small farm and received his BS, MS, and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Missouri. He worked in private industry prior to his 30-years academic career at North Carolina State University, Oklahoma State University, University of Georgia, and the University of Missouri. Since retiring in 2000, he spends most of his time writing and speaking on issues of sustainability. Ikerd is author of six books and numerous professional papers, which are accessible at his University of Missouri website and personal website.
John Ikerd



How to Cite

Ikerd, J. (2015). THE ECONOMIC PAMPHLETEER: Can Small Farms Be Sustained Economically?. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development, 5(3), 9–11.

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