New York’s Part-time Farms

The Albany Time-Union has this article on small farms, profiling a “part-time” farmer, Jim Sullivan; a banker who also runs a cattle farm started by his grandfather in Brunswick.

Some interesting facts:

According to the U.S. Census, which surveys the nation’s agricultural business every five years, there were 37,255 farms in New York in 2002. That’s down from 43,682 in 1974.

Of those farmers, 61 percent listed farming as a primary occupation. But that might have been more of a point of pride than a realistic expectation: 57 percent of state farmers make only 25 percent of their income through farming. The average income for New York farms was $14,460 in 2002.

Gentlemen farmers, hobby farmers, part-time farmers—whatever you call them, their work in keeping farmland alive has a bigger impact than just making locally grown vegetables, apples or beef available to the public. It means maintaining a rural presence in towns like Brunswick, which is increasingly threatened by development.

“A very large part of farming in New York is small farms,” said Steve Ropel, director of agriculture statistics for the state Department of Agriculture. “They’re thriving in New York state—in number, not in viability.”

Advocates of sustainable agriculture and buying local often point to small farms as a “model” for agriculture. But we must not overly romanticize the small farm. Clearly the small farm – the part-time farmer – cannot meet the food demands of our region alone. In this regard there is a big question mark on how we define and value the “rural presence”.

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