Small scale agriculture
Small-scale agriculture is a method of agriculture that uses less machinery and more human labour.
Local, small-scale farming operations typically utilize more sustainable methods than conventional industrial farming systems to maintain soil productivity and control pests. They employ methods as polyculture, decreased tillage, crop rotation, nutrient cyclingW (ie composting, ...), biological pest control and/or fostered biodiversity and reduced chemical pesticide and fertilizer applications, mechanical cultivation, and other techniques (ie mulching, ...)
Small scale farmers typically sell their produce via the farmer's market. Farmers' marketsW are also a good source for obtaining local food and knowledge about local farming productions. As well as promoting localization of food, farmers markets are a central gathering place for community interaction.
Small scale organic farmers often market directly to consumers.
Another approach is Community Supported Agriculture. In this system, the consumers are also the producers.
 Labour-saving techniques
Labour-saving -techniques other than large machinery may be used, including choice of crops, ground cover and water management techniques (methods of irrigation and of reducing the need for irrigation).
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 Advantages of small scale agriculture
 Reduced emissions from transport
Food is currently produced on a corporate level. Food is being transported intercontinentally. The way that the food is being transported is releasing tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. With the way that the world produces and the way that we trade this has caused mass destruction to the planet. This includes global warming that is putting the ecosystem and human communities in danger. Global warming is affecting farmers through the changing weather patterns that bring about unusual weather that can destroy farmland and animals.
 Food quality
Another effect is the increase in food quality and taste. Locally grown fresh food is consumed almost immediately after harvestW, so it is sold fresher and usually riper (e.g. picked at peak maturity, as it would be from a home gardenW). Also, the need for chemical preservatives and irradiationW to artificially extend shelf-life is reduced or eliminated.
Additionally, preserving or renewing regional foodwaysW, including unique localized production practices, indigenous knowledge, agricultural landscapes, and local/regional varieties crops or livestock that may be rare or otherwise endangered. It is increasingly being tied to the movement to preserve farmland in areas where developmentW pressures threaten these landscapes.
 Polyculture and sustainable farming
A major impact of local food systems is to encourage multiple croppingW, i.e. growing multiple species and a wide variety of crops at the same time and same place, as opposed to the prevalent commercial practice of large-scale, single-crop monocultureW.
With a higher demand for a variety of agricultural products, farmers are more likely to diversify their production, thereby making it easier to farm in a sustainableW way. For example, winter intercroppingW (e.g. coverage of leguminousW crops during winter) and crop rotationW reduces pestW pressure, and also the use of pesticidesW. Also, in an animal/crop multiculture system, the on-farm byproducts like manureW and crop residuesW are used to replace chemical fertilizersW, while on-farm produced silageW and leguminous crops feed the cattleW instead of imported soyaW. Manure and residues being considered as by-products rather than wasteW, will have reduced effects on the environment, and reduction in soya import is likely to be economically interesting for the farmer, as well as more secure (because of a decrease of market dependence on outside inputs).
In a polycultural agroecosystem, there is usually a more efficient use of labour as each crop has a different cycle of culture, hence different time of intensive care, minimization of risk (lesser effect of extreme weatherW as one crop can compensate for another), reduction of insectW pestsW and diseaseW incidence (diseases are usually crop specific), maximization of results with low levels of technology - intensive monoculture cropping often involves very high-technology material and sometimes the use of genetically modified seedsW (see Appropriate technologyW}. Multiculture also seeks to preserve indigenous biodiversityW.
 Local economies
One example of an effort in this direction is Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), where consumers purchase advance shares in a local farmer's annual production, and pick up their shares, usually weekly, from communal distribution points. In effect, CSA members become active participants in local farming, by providing up-front cash to financeW seasonal expenses, sharing in the risks and rewards of the growing conditions, and taking part in the distribution system. Some CSA set-ups require members to contribute a certain amount of labor, in a form of cooperativeW venture.
The popular resurgence of farmers marketsW in many parts of the world, including Europe and North America (from 1,755 in 1994 to 4,385 in 2006 in the U.S.), contributes to local economies. They are traditional in many societies, bringing together local food and craftW producers for the convenience of local consumers. Today, some urban farmers markets are large-scale enterprises, attracting tens of thousands on a market day, and vendors are not always "local". However, the majority of markets are still built around local farmers.
Another at present small but notable trend is local food as part of a barterW system. In localized economies, where a variety of common goods and services are provided by individuals and businesses within the immediate community (as opposed to by outlets and branches of large corporations), a direct of exchange of values is quite feasible. Some CSA projects, for example, trade services or labor for food. Particularly in the developed nations, the move away from local food to agribusiness over the last 100 years has had a profound socioeconomic effect, by redistributing populations into urbanW areas, and concentrating ownership of land and capital. In addition, the traditional farming skill set, which by necessity included a diverse range of knowledge and abilities required to manage a farm, has given way to new generations of specialists. When farming for local consumption was a cornerstone of local economies, the farmer was an integral, leading member of the community, a far different position from today. Support for local food is seen by some as a way to rediscover valuable community structures, values and perspectives.
 Combination with energy production
Small scale sustainable agriculture can be a tool to farmers for producing renewable energy. Unlike larger farms the smaller ones are, for the most part, growing different crops, and also have livestock for their farms. These farms are more productive than the larger farms that grow only one crop, or raise one type of livestock. Small scale sustainable agriculture is helping to cool down the earth. When communities are provided food from local farms the farms help in an economic way as well as with social development. The smaller farms could lead to better housing, education, and other local businesses that can thrive. Small scale sustainable agriculture is not only a benefit to the environment, but to the communities as well.
 Cost to consumer
Critics also say that local food tends to be more expensive to the consumerW than food bought without regard to provenanceW and could never provide the variety currently available (such as having summer vegetables available in winter, or having kinds of food available which can not be locally produced due to soil, climate or labor conditions).
However, proponents claim that the lower price of commodified food is often due to a variety of governmental subsidiesW, including direct ones such as price supports, direct payments or tax breaks, and indirect ones such as subsidies for trucking via road infrastructure investment, and often does not take into account the true costW of the product. They further indicate that buying local food does not necessarily mean giving up all food coming from distant ecoregionsW, but rather favoring local foods when available. They also point out that local foods often represent more variety, not less, as obscure local delicacies (including wild foodsW) are rediscovered, and as more types of produce (varieties or indeed species) are grown in the garden or allotment, types that would not be acceptable in the supermarket-driven food chain.
A study published in the May, 2008 issue of the American Journal of Agricultural Economics, suggests that the average supermarket shopper is willing to pay a premium price for locally produced foods. The study also showed that shoppers at farm markets are willing to pay almost twice as much extra as retail grocery shoppers for the same locally produced foods. In 2005, the researchers surveyed shoppers at 17 Midwestern locations, including seven retail grocery stores, six on-site farm markets and four farmers’ markets hosting sellers from multiple farms. The researchers used data from 477 surveys.
 Effect on exporting countries
Some critics argue that by convincing consumersW in developed nationsW not to buy food produced in the third worldW, the local food movement damages the economyW of third world nationsW, which often rely heavily on food exportsW and cash cropsW.
Different regions where this type of agriculture is most efficient is in both first and third world countries.
The United States is an area where small scale sustainable agriculture is used. The different types of this agriculture used in the United States include, vegetables, fruits, cut flowers, herbs, poultry, beef, pork, dairy products, and other goods.
- Shiva, Vandana. Stolen Harvest: The Hijacking of the Global Food Supply. Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 2000.
- Todd, J. and N. J. Todd. From Eco-Cities to Living Machines: Principles of Ecological Design. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 1994.
- USDA Agricultural Marketing Services (2006). Farmers Market Growth. http://www.ams.usda.gov/farmersmarkets/farmersmarketgrowth.htm accessed on Dec 6, 2006 at 1044:pm PST
- Newswise: Shoppers Willing to Pay Premium for Locally Grown Food Retrieved on June 15, 2008.
- Food & Fertilizer Technology Center for the Asian and Pacific Region: http://www.agnet.org/library/bc/44002/
- Land Research Action Network: http://www.landaction.org/spip/spip.php?article225
- Growing Small Farms: http://chatham.ces.ncsu.edu/growingsmallfarms
- Oxfam America: http://www.oxfamamerica.org/whatwedo/where_we_work/united_states/news_publications/food_farm/art2570.html
- FarmEnergy Extension