Family Farms

Family Farms

When most people think of farming, they often conjure up pastoral images of farm life — red barns, white picket fences, and animals grazing outdoors. The reality of farm life, however, is often starkly different. Large-scale industrialized farms have largely replaced the independent family farms as the primary suppliers of meat, dairy and vegetables within the United States.

Industrial farming operations use large-scale factory farming techniques designed to drive the cost of food production as low as possible, which may appear to benefit food consumers. In 2010 Americans spent 9.4% of their disposable income on food as compared to 17.5% in 1960.1 But many people argue that the cost of the food from industrialized farming operations is artificially low because some of the cost of production is shifted to other parts of the system in terms of animal suffering, environmental degradation and the deterioration of local farming communities.

Over the last 50 years, the total number of U.S. farms has plummeted nearly 40 percent, from 3.82 million to 2.2 million, due in part to the expansion of large-scale operations and the development of farm land for other uses.2 While small family farms still represent 88% of the total farms, they account for just 16% of the food produced and many of their operators struggle in the face of larger, better financed competitors.3

The disappearance of small farms has shown to have significant impacts on their local economies. Studies have shown that small farms provide more local jobs and purchase more supplies from other local businesses than their industrial counterparts, creating a multiplier effect to support the community.4

Chipotle Cultivate Foundation believes that food can be produced efficiently and at a reasonable cost without resorting to techniques that place an unnecessary burden on the environment, the animals or the farmers and their local communities. By continuing Chipotle’s support of organizations such as Farm Aid,, and the Niman Ranch Scholarship, we hope to support and strengthen the independent family farmers who are committed to more sustainable farming practices.

1.USDA Economic Research Service Food CPI and Expenditures

2. USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service. Farm Operations Query.

3. USDA Economic Research Service. "Structure and Finances of U.S. Farms." 2010.

4. “Economics.”