Ag and Food Systems


Small and Medium Scale Farm Growth, Reproduction and Persistence at the Rural-Urban Interface:  Balancing Family, Goals, Opportunities and Risks

Jeff Sharp, PI; Shoshanah Inwood, Co-PI; Jill Clark, Co-PI; Vicki Garrett

Introduction: Researchers from The Ohio State University and University of Vermont are working on a joint project to understand farm growth and success in areas that are experiencing development pressure. For small and medium farms, the rural-urban interface (RUI) offers both opportunity (such as growing interest in local and regional foods) and conflict (such as land use competition). Facing these conditions, the success of agriculture at the RUI depends on the creation of new farm enterprises, growth of existing farms, and passing farms down through generations.  However, USDA research on small farm growth found that 87% of their sample did not grow their enterprises due to other interests.

Our objective is to understand the complex relationship between farm household interests and farm growth and reproduction at the RUI by: 

  1. Identifying farm and household goals, exploring the relationship between these goals and various household demographics (such as gender, ethnicity, lifecycle); 
  2. Examining the relationship between farm household goals, demographics and employment strategies and the outcomes of farm development, growth and reproduction, evaluating the importance of household factors compared with other influences; 
  3. Constructing categories of small and medium scale farming types organized according to household demographics, goals, farm structure, development strategies, and identifying the opportunities, challenges, and policy needs associated with particular sets of farm types.


Our project includes three phases:

Phase 1) Identification of research sites and analysis using data from the 2007 Census of Agriculture and the 2010 Census of Population

Florida Site Profile

Hawaii Site Profile

Maine Site Profile

Ohio Site Profile

Vermont Site Profile

Phase 2) Site visits and farmer and organizational/institutional leader interviews   

Phase 3) Household survey

Expected Outcomes: 

  1. Qualitative explanation from interviews and quantitative details from the survey of farm and household goals and values that shape farm development and persistence, as well as information about their connection to particular development paths and strategies for farm reproduction.  
  2. We expect to find that farm and household goals and motivations are strongly related to household demographics and employment strategies.  This finding can inform federal, state and local efforts seeking to support small and medium scale farm development, which currently may be more concerned with economic, market, and land-use issues rather than household motivations.
  3. A classification of small and medium farmers that will better distinguish between farmers who want to grow or do not, have a farming heir or do not, and those who want to grow but are limited by some household factor (such as off-farm employment or contradictory nonfarm household goals), etc. This classification will support policies and programs that more effectively address the problems of different types of farmers, and maximize collective outcomes. 

The findings of this research will guide policy and development efforts aimed at sustaining and growing small and medium scale farms across time.

Phase 1

Phase 2

Phase 3

• Results 

This project is supported by the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, USDA, Grant # 2011-67023-30139.

For More Information:

Jeff Sharp
The Ohio State University
School of Environment and Natural Resources
210 Kottman Hall
2021 Coffey Road
Columbus, OH 43210

Project email: