When someone finds out that I farm they often respond, "Oh, I would love to farm." My response is usually "Why don't you?"

Too often people identify farming with something big -- a hundred acres in the country with cows, chickens, pigs -- the whole nine yards. But large-scale farming is a fairly recent practice. At one time, pretty much everyone with a little land did some farming. It might not have been their full-time profession, but they raised a few animals and vegetables for their family and sold the excess. That was and is farming.

Today in countries like Italy and Germany it is common to find small livestock and vegetables in many suburban backyards -- a few chickens, a few rabbits, a corn crib, a vineyard, a garden. Having a few animals and a garden are even more common in Latin America, Asia, and Africa. 

If we are going to find an alternative to industrial agriculture, I think it will be through small farms like these. A thousand backyards will be the solution to a thousand acres of monoculture crops. 

What if you went to a local store to buy chicken, eggs, and a few vegetables and half of what was available was grown in your neighbors' backyards? What if when you came in to buy vegetables, you traded a few pounds of tomatoes for a chicken? What if you just traded with your neighbors and organized a system in which you raised the rabbits, another neighbor grew the beans, and another the lettuce? 

The possibility of small-scale production is great in part because it is so dynamic. Small-scale farms can adapt and change faster than large farms, and because they fit within the physical power of people, they don’t require large petroleum-hungry machines. 

Of course everyone can't do this small-scale farming. That's fine. Of course backyard farms won't eliminate the need for large-scale farming. No one is suggesting that. But an increasing number of small farms might just be what we need to move toward a truly ecological future. At least more people will have a better picture of where their food comes from.

If you've ever been tempted by a vision of an idyllic life in the country tending cattle or growing vegetables, don't wait. Get some rabbits, a few chickens, dig up that wasteful grass and plant some lettuce. Eat from your yard, share some with your neighbors, find a restaurant or store that will buy your extra produce, or just set up a stand by the road. If you don't have a yard, find a community garden that you can take part in or start you own in an abandoned lot. There's plenty of land and plenty of people with a desire to grow something -- let's begin a small-farm revolution.

This article originally appeared in Plenty in December 2007. The story was added to MNN.com.

Copyright Environ Press 2007

The quarter-acre farm
You don't have to have a huge barn or miles of crops to be a farmer.