Niche Markets and Small Farming are Types of Farming Viable to New Farmers

Niche markets allow small operations to thrive on specialty markets.

| March/April 2010

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  • Scottish Highland Cow
    Grassfed cattle, including heritage breeds like this Scottish Highland, are an excellent way of putting your pastures to good use.
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  • Drying Fragrant Lavender
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  • Niche Farming Bees and Canola Plants
  • Scottish Highland Cow
  • Drying Fragrant Lavender
Find a Niche for Your Farm 

Every day in the United States, close to 3,000 acres of productive farmland are lost to development. Adapting to survive, many farmers have embraced a new paradigm that focuses on agricultural models custom-fit to changing markets and filling local niche markets with specialty produce and value-added products. The movement seems to be working.

Nearly 300,000 new farms have begun operations since 2002, according to recent Agricultural Census data. Compared with all farms nationwide, these new arrivals tend to have more diversified production, fewer acres, lower total-dollar sales and operators who also work off-farm. Interestingly, many of these operations are located in decidedly urban and suburban areas.

Farming the fringe

Rob Hogan, a ninth-generation farmer, works ancestral land first settled in 1757 and located on the outskirts of Carrboro, North Carolina. Hogan and his wife, Ann Leonard, live in the home where they raised their three sons, the homeplace built for Hogan’s great-grandparents in the 1840s.

In 1930, the Hogan family embarked on a dairy venture, Lake Hogan Farms. For 65 years, the business thrived and supplied milk to its neighboring counties. In 1995, the family succumbed to increasing property values and property taxes and local development pressures, and sold Lake Hogan Farms, retaining 180 acres that Hogan currently cultivates as Hogan’s Magnolia Farm.

Hogan said he was faced with leaving the farming business altogether, or making a go without the dairy and traditional crops. He made the bold decision to develop a retail niche for his farm. His land is cut up into a quilt-like assortment of fields sandwiched between suburban housing developments.

Utilizing what he has, Hogan grows wheat that is milled into flour by local bread bakers, hay for the county’s increasing horse population, wheat straw for landscapers, and, with the rise of the locavore movement and overwhelming consumer request, grassfed beef that is raised and processed in the Triangle, the region anchored by Chapel Hill, Raleigh and Durham.

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