Conventional wisdom says that small family farms are backward and unproductive. This is just not so. There is undeniable evidence that small farms are much more productive than large farms, if the total output is considered rather than the yield from a single crop.
Diversified farming systems, in which the small-scale farmer produces grains, fruits, vegetables, fodder, and animal products in the same field or garden, out-produce the yield per unit of single crops such as corn grown alone on large-scale farms. A large farm may produce more corn per hectare than a small mixed farm, however polyculture productivity in terms of harvestable products per unit area is higher than under a single crop with the same level of management. In the United States the smallest two-hectare farms produced $15,104 per hectare and netted about $2,902 per hectare. The largest farms, averaging 15,000 hectares, yielded $249 per hectare and netted about $52 per hectare. (Source:http://monthlyreview.org/2009/07/01/agroecology-small-farms-and-food-sovereignty/)
Polyculture has long been recognised as highly productive. Simple season extension practices and intensive polyculture were used by the market gardeners of Paris in the mid 19th century. Occupying 6% of the land within the city limits of Paris the maraîchers (market gardeners) produced enough food for the inhabitants of Paris (1.5million) as well as exporting to England. They averaged between four to eight harvest per year from the same piece of ground. The modern proponent of intensive market garden polyculture is Elliot Coleman.
Our small village farm in Braidwood is much much less than 1.5 acres (0.6 of a hectare). Yet from that small market garden we produce 2.0 tonne of produce annually. This does not include the meat and eggs we also grow. Small is definitely bountiful.
By managing fewer resources more intensively, small farmers are able to make more profit per unit of output, and thus, make more total profits—even if production of each commodity is less. In overall output, the diversified farm produces much more food.
Not only do small-to-medium-sized farms exhibit higher yields than conventional larger-scale farms, they do this with much lower negative impacts on the environment. Research shows that small farmers take better care of natural resources, including reducing soil erosion and conserving biodiversity. So in terms of converting inputs into outputs, society would be better off with small-scale farmers.
According to United Nations Food & Agricultural Organisation (FOA), small farm food production can feed the world. Every person that supports their local farmers market, their regional food producers and grows some food in their garden is changing the future of our world, one meal at a time.
Bronwyn Richards has cared for animals and has been growing vegetables successfully all her adult life. She is principle gardener for Wynlen House Farm