Over the past century the U.S. has gone from having a predominantly rural, farm-based population, to having a predominantly urban population. Over 80% of Americans now live in urban areas, and most of the 20% who still live in rural areas are not farmers.
Rural Americans have higher rates of poverty, lower wages and are less educated than their urban counterparts.
And, of course, there is no economic incentive to be a farmer. It’s nearly impossible to make a living at it, particularly if the farm is operated sustainably. Less than half of farm operators have farming as their primary source of income. Think about that. Most farmers earn a majority of their income from off-farm jobs. Typically one spouse works a job off the farm to provide for the family, leaving the other spouse to manage the day to day operations of the farm. 55% of farms have total gross sales of less than $10,000. That is gross sales, not profits. The average farm in America operates at a loss. 77% of the farms in America have gross sales of less than $50,000. Clearly farmers aren’t in it for the money.
So is there any wonder that young people aren’t taking up farming as their occupation? Why would they? It will put food on the table, but it won’t pay the rent.
Meanwhile the cost of farmland is being driven up by urban sprawl. As the urban areas enlarge, they move into rural farm areas, driving up the cost of land and making it impossible for farmers to afford it. Because it is impossible to pay for farm land with the earnings from farming, the land becomes suburbs.
The American Farmland Trust reports that 78% of vegetables and 67% of dairy products are from land threatened by development, as are 54% of poultry products and 91% of fruit, berry and nut farms.
If only these suburban non-farmers would plant gardens in their backyards. But the vast majority don’t. So the shelves of supermarkets are filled with imported food and the sun continues to set on the traditional American way of life.