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The Iowa State University Extension and Outreach program in Small Farm Sustainability exists to open the door to relationships and resources relevant to the pursuit of sustainability for Iowa’s smaller-scale, entrepreneurial farm enterprises. By sharing science-based information, providing program leadership, and facilitating collaboration, we will promote planning and profit potential in specialty ag ventures that tend to increase stewardship, diversity, and resilience on the Iowa farmscape.


  • Profitability – because private enterprise cannot exist, even in the short-term, without it
  • Planning – because without knowing where you’re going and having some idea how to get there, you will be unable to correct your course and you may never arrive at your destination
  • Stewardship – because many resources are finite, and without maintaining/improving their quality and abundance, they will become scarce and/or degraded beyond utility
  • Diversity – because people want choices, because nature resists monoculture, and because, in unpredictable times, one venture may succeed to make up for another that fails
  • Abundance – because there is a lot of information to be learned, a lot of decisions to be made, a lot of food to be grown, a lot of resources to be protected, and a lot of mouths to be fed.
  • Resilience – because disturbance is increasing in frequency and severity, so systems must be able to recover from, adapt to, and even be improved by, such disturbance
  • Community – because community relationships – friendship, leadership, kinship, collegiality, peer pressure, customer, mediator – can make or break quality of life and quality of enterprise
  • Relevance – because following trends and working to meet current needs are necessary to stay in business as you pursue your long-term goals
  • Meaningful work – farming is as much a lifestyle as it is a living; if you want to get rich, there are easier ways, but if you want to combine science, craft, and husbandry, there is no better way

What is a small farm?

According to the USDA Economic Research Service, a “farm” is defined as any place from which $1,000 or more of agricultural products were produced and sold, or normally would have been sold, during the year. "Family farms" are farms in which the majority of the business is owned by the operator and individuals related to the operator by blood, marriage, or adoption, including relatives that do not live in the operator household. “Small farms” are farms with gross cash farm income (GCFI) less than $350,000.

What is sustainable agriculture?

U.S. Code Title 7, Section 3103, defines sustainable agriculture as an integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site-specific application that will, over the long-term:

  • satisfy human food and fiber needs;
  • enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the agriculture economy depends;
  • make the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources and integrate, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls;
  • sustain the economic viability of farm operations; and
  • enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole.

Contact Us

Christa Hartsook
Small Farm Program Coordinator
12625 N. Loop Dr., Suite 2430
Ames, IA 50010-8635

Phone: 515-294-4430

Date of Publication: 
March, 2016