The mainstream U.S. food system is concentrated and industrialized, dominated by a handful of agribusinesses while many farmers and ranchers—the backbone of our food supply chain—are locked in cycles of debt. Since 2013, U.S. farmers and ranchers have seen a 45% drop in net farm income (FarmAid, 2017, A Looming Crisis of American Farms) Corporate production/processing and farm consolidation has left eaters with ever-growing options for highly processed food products, yet dwindling choices of fresh, nutritious, whole foods.
Farm consolidation, existing federal and state policies, increasing costs of land and production, and rapidly evolving markets have made it challenging for small- and medium- scale farm businesses to achieve long-term financial stability.
Over the past two decades, the U.S. has lost 50 percent of its licensed dairy farms—down from approximately 70,000 dairies to just 34,000 today. And despite growing demand for local, sustainably produced food, through our research we found that the vast majority of sustainable vegetable farms that sell their produce through direct markets like farmers markets and CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) programs are not earning a living wage.
It doesn’t have to be this way. An industrial food system is a product of policies, programs, and infrastructure that favor economies of scale and corporate profit margins. By creating and expanding policies, programs, and infrastructure that fortify regional food systems, we can more equitably distribute power and profits to benefit small- and medium-scale farmers while protecting public health, animal welfare, natural resource conservation, and rural economies.
For more than 30 years, we’ve advocated for strengthening local and regional food systems. We foster a network of tens of thousands of farmers, policymakers, researchers, educators, farmers market managers, food cooperatives, local distributors, community members, and other stakeholders who collectively fuel local and regional food systems. And we’re building tools to make it easier to find, source, sell, and distribute local food.