Many of these people are naiave about the sacrifices and difficulties, and have narrow definitions of what they're willing to do. Very few have the discipline to choose the difference between a hobby and a living.
Nonetheless, that leaves a lot of people.
Currently 2% of Americans are farmers. Is a larger percentage of farmers possible? or reasonable?
There are some apparently inviolable laws including supply and demand, and efficiency (if I can do more in the same time, I can sell it for cheaper and I will put you out of business).
How (on earth) could a starry eyed young farmer compete with a $300,000 combine? How can a recommisioned minivan compete with a semi fleet? Because if the only thing keeping people like me in business is charitable buyers of expensive food, there is definitely not much room for growth.
I'd like you to consider a few reasons why its possible, a few reasons why its necessary, and a few things that would help it along
First, from an economic perspective, this business is carried by consumers willing to spend extra. However this a is rapidly growing class. Consumers believe that (a) they are buying health (b) they are buying taste quality (c) they are supporting local (d) they are investing in the environment. For these reasons they buy organic, or fresh, or local or something other than whats closest and cheapest.
Second, Farmers like me are growing a living, based on the cost of labor and at the speed of nature's cycles. Industrial agriculture is based on the price of debt and the cost of energy. Spikes in energy or interest can make alternative agriculture suddenly price competitive. Even when the price retracts, consumers may be acclimated to the logistical challenges and human touch of buying from alternative agriculture.
Why do we want more farmers?
Quality, Quantity, Stability
Quality has always been a weak spot of the industrial system. Debasement is inevitable in a capitalist mindset. Companies reach eminence by the quality of a brand. Inevitably, Inexorably their resolve for quality erodes in the face of easy money. By selling a cheap product at expensive prices, they can make the money they need to support an inevitably top-heavy company (since people get promoted in a successful company, but aren't necessarily more productive).
Small businesses by contrast, are not always predicated on growth. Since they often pay off debt, they can actually become more profitable over time, on the same income. Their quality is built on quality oriented mindsets, and direct relationships with distributors and even consumers. They are motivated to produce a better product for pride or friends, not just money.
Quantity is often bandied a huge improvement of industrial agriculture over older, small farms. And American farmers produce exponentially more food per farmer than ever in history. But in a world that grows more crowded every day, and land prices continue climbing, we have to ask how much we can grow per acre. And I'm here to say that land responds well to careful management. Small farmers can out-produce per acre every time.
Stability is inherent to multiple small systems. Power is inherent to big systems. Not hard to guess where people gravitate to. Remember "too big to fail" When markets, companies and nations fail in catastrophic or simply significant ways, stable systems chug along, provider both owners and investors safety.
What do we need to help this along?
Power is inherent to big systems. Despite all the hype about green energy, brown energy still gets more federal funding. Why? because it can afford to lobby for it. Because it creates jobs. Because it keeps us going.
But it is the duty of the government serve all its people and business, not the just most powerful. The government needs to stop subsidizing food production (which always incentivizes poor quality), and subsidize food purchase. It needs to protect farmers from aggressive companies like Monsanto, and stop pushing literature from these companies. And it needs to modify regulations which are designed by large companies to prohibit small companies from competing (e.g. startup cost to butcher a cow and sell 1 lb hamburger $2,000,000)
The government needs a better healthcare solution. Healthcare costs are the most prohibitive variable for entrepreneurs of any kind. I'm happy for private insurance, or nationwide coverage, or anything, as long as the costs are reasonable.
Finally, the government will have to begin doing triple bottom line accounting and taxing business for us of public resource accordingly.
After all, its often cheaper to irrigate strawberries in the desert and ship them across the Midwest to New England than to grow them locally. But who payed for the depletion of the aquifer and the oil-field? Our kids and our grandkids.
If Businesses can be required to pay decent wages to workers, and pay for environmental costs of their business, the market will re-level itself. I hope it works out that well anyway.
Meanwhile, I'll be here growing a living, hopefully paving the way for future farmers and eaters.