Small farms making big impact in US agriculture

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AFP, Logan :
As a teenager, Danelle Myer wanted nothing more than to leave her family’s farm in Iowa and become a big-city advertising executive.
Now, the 42-year-old juggles orders for cabbage and deals with hail damage on her patch of land.
After building a career in public relations, Myer returned three years ago to her rural roots in the US farm belt-the tiny Iowan town of Logan, less than 40 miles (60 kilometers) north of Omaha, Nebraska.
“In my 20s, my health was not the greatest. I started realizing what we put in our body matters. I became more health-conscious,” Myer said.
“What pushed me over the edge was the land owned by my family,” said the fifth-generation farmer, as she sat cross-legged among her plants in a pink tank top and flip-flops.
“It is an immense privilege and I should do something about it.”
But she had no intention of taking up the conventional farming practices of her parents, who raise corn, soybeans and cattle.
For her, it would be a truck farm on a small, sloping piece of land “all pesticide- and GM-free,” she said, referring to genetically modified seeds that dominate much of US corn and soybean crops.
In the heart of the Midwest, the breadbasket of the United States and known for agricultural productivity, Myer’s story is no longer so unusual.
In the land of industrial-scale agriculture, “truck farming” — small-scale fresh fruit and vegetable production-is booming, encouraged by the rising consumer interest in food grown locally, an industry worth $7 billion.
The country has 8,100 farmers’ markets, and nearly 150,000 farmers and ranchers sell their products directly to consumers. Some 44 percent of schools have links to local farms for student meals.
To encourage the trend, the US government on June 9 launched “Local Food, Local Places”, a program that provides experts in agricultural, transportation, the environment and the regional economy to rural communities to help them build local food systems.
“The changes are tangible and inspiring,” said Alice Topaloff, a young French-American agricultural engineer working in Iowa.
“The development of local farms is catching on, and in a more spectacular way than in France,” she said.