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US: Small farms grow along with organic demand

Rising consumer demand for locally grown, organic produce is fueling a surge in the number of small Indiana farms, boosting their numbers nearly 80 percent over five years, a new farm census report shows.

The number of Indiana farms under 10 acres soared from 5,436 in 2002 to 9,720 in 2007 -- a 79 percent increase -- said Greg Preston, director of the Indiana Agricultural Statistics Service.

"It's skyrocketing. We are getting a lot of newer farmers coming in that are smaller -- going into direct marketing, specialty products, organics, locally grown, this type of stuff," Preston told The Star Press.

For the ag census, taken every five years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture defines a farm as any place from which $1,000 or more of agricultural products are produced and sold.

Jerry Nelson, a New Ventures educator at Purdue University, attributes the increase in small farms to demand for locally grown food, the growing number of farmers markets and retiring baby boomers who want to do something different, such as raising alpacas.

Among those new farmers is Kirk Robey, the retired associate director of international programs at Ball State University.

In 2007, he and his wife, Mary, a computer support specialist at Maxon Corp., opened Patchwork Perennials, a nursery specializing in more than 300 varieties of daylilies, south of Hartford City.

"We enjoy gardening and like being outdoors," Robey said. "We also like our customers. Daylily enthusiasts are nice people."

Buying locally grown food or plants strengthens the local economy, protects the environment because food doesn't have to travel far, and allows consumers to get to know farmers and how their food is produced, said Dave Ring, who owns a five-acre vegetable farm and Muncie's Downtown Farm Stand.

He said many consumers ask whether or not crops or livestock are free of pesticides, hormones or antibiotics and whether farmers used genetically modified seeds.

New farmers Rick and Angie Hendrick grow flowers, heirloom tomatoes, corn, green beans and other produce for the Farmers Market at Minnetrista, raising their crops in their spare time.

Rick is also a technician at the Burd Ford dealership in Indianapolis, while Angie is a video analyzer at Life Touch Senior Portraits.

"My husband always had a passion to be a farmer," Angie Hendrick said. "He was in FFA in high school, and his parents never farmed. I think he's always wanted to do this."

Even though the farming life means getting up at 5:30 a.m. during the growing season, she like farming too.

"I love the farmers market," she said. "I can't wait until Saturday. All the people -- they are friendly. They like their vegetables."


Source: chicagotribune.com

Publication date: 2/10/2009


 


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