Thesis Proposal Defense - Devin Foote - 11/23/15

Date: November 23, 2015
Time: 4pm
Location: Room 130, Natural Resources Building

Case Studies in Small Farm Viability of Michigan Direct Market Farmers

Masters Thesis Proposal Defense



Devin Foote

Monday, November 23, 2015

4 p.m.

Room 130, Natural Resources Building 


With rapidly increasing sales of local food in the U.S., it is tempting to assume that consumers are making a real difference in the livelihoods of small-scale farmers. According to the USDAs 2012 Census of Agriculture, however, 70% of America’s 3.2 million farmers earn less than one quarter of their annual household income from their agricultural efforts. The data are even more discouraging for small farmers, which the USDA defines as those grossing between $10,000 and $250,000 per year—these households obtain only ten percent of their household income from farming. Recent efforts by state and federal agencies have worked to support small farms through a multitude of programs, yet little is known about how financially solvent these farms are. There have been few in-depth studies that address the question: are small farms really economically viable?

I will use a case study approach to delve deeper than USDA Census statistics, and to analyze the business profiles and economic viability of ten small vegetable farms in Michigan. I will assess farm balance sheets and net income (income minus expenses) using monthly data tracking for the entire 2015-growing season. In addition, I will collect information on farmer demographics and farm business decisions through open-ended, qualitative interview questions at the end of the growing season. The results from this research are expected to contribute to a better understanding of small farm viability and inform initiatives to increase the availability of small farm products at the local, state, and regional levels. 

Committee Members:

Dr. Phil Howard, Chairperson

Dr. Bridget Behe

Dr. Mike Hamm