Basically, Mr. Macher writes that in the beginning of U.S. agriculture we would use the land until it didn't produce any more and then we would just move and start over. Of course in the 1930's the problems with this method showed their ugly face and people become more concerned about soil conservation and land in general. After WWII people began wanting a "taste" of the country life so they started moving from the cities to slightly more rural areas and businesses and industries followed them. According to Mr. Macher (don't know where the stat comes from) we lose 2 of farm land to development ever minute.
With the industrialization of farming post WWII we began to see that fewer and fewer farms were producing more and more of our food. With that increase those farmers began to specialize and focus their efforts on one type of livestock or crop. Of course this spread everything out so much that almost all of the food had to be shipped a great distance to get to the consumers ... this wasn't a big deal at the time because transportation was cheap.
Of course you had John Deere, the plow, "fencerow to fencerow", bigger is better, and then the farm crisis. In the 1980's there were farms lost, lives taken, and marriages and families broken apart because of the get bigger mindset (and the willingness of the land bank to give money out so freely). Those that survived either barely did or got bigger in the process because they were able to buy up what was suddenly available. It kind of sounds like a bleak picture ... but, Mr. Macher points out some good news. The number of small farms (178 acres and down) is growing and with that the opportunity of small farmers to diversify and make a living.
That is some interesting stuff, and like I said is a book in and of itself that I would like to read. But, he closed with four last points for a beginning farmer (or one that wants to change). I'll leave you with those points:
- Experiment - Start farming wherever you can (unless you live in my town, then don't have chickens in your backyard). Grow a garden, set aside a small piece of land to do something different, or at least start planning. Just get doing!
- Rent Land - In some ways I think this is becoming more difficult with the current high grain prices than it was 10-15 years ago when many of these "you can farm" books were written. But, it is still a god staring place and it is important to remember that you can rent a pretty small piece of land (even in town) to get started with a market garden.
- Lean As You Grow - You don't have to have everything or do everything right away. In fact you probably wouldn't be able to handle it just like I am not going to be able to handle it all at once. But, take is slow and as you learn and experience more then you can grow.
- Always Watch Your Bottom Line - Bigger isn't better, sometimes you can do more with less or if you can't do much with a little then you probably can't do any better with more! It is easy to treat farming as as "hobby" if you are just getting started and have a town job that is supporting your family and beginning farming. Don't do that! Make sur the farm is working for itself no matter how big it is (this could be as simple as cutting your grocery expenses).