Richard Nixon’s agriculture secretary in the early to mid-1970s was Earl Butz, a man best known for advising the nation’s farmers to “get big or get out.” Rural America has been following that advice ever since. Across most of the country, farms continue to grow in acreage and dwindle in number. Every state in the vast agricultural region stretching from Michigan to Kansas and Ohio to North Dakota has seen more than a doubling of average farm size since 1982.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Agriculture figures show that growing crops and raising animals has become an old man’s pursuit, with two-thirds of farmers now more than 55 years old, almost one-third of them over 65 and 88 percent of them men.
But one region, New England, is having none of that. There, numbers of farms are increasing, with the biggest growth in the small-farm sector. And prominent in this boom are women and men in their 20s and 30s.
This movement gets support from organizations like the Young Farmer Network of Southeastern New England. Having started about five years ago as a series of potluck field tours known as Young Farmer Nights, YFN has grown into a deep-rooted community of new farmers determined to defy the old Butz Doctrine and get in small.