As farmers across the nation struggle against unfavorable economic conditions and increased pressure from sprawling development, communities must decide whether to enact measures that protect farmland and help keep farmers in business. In making such decisions, community leaders often weigh the scenic and environmental benefits of farms against the perceived economic benefits of further residential and commercial development. Often lost in the debate, however, is a discussion of the economic impact that farms have on their surrounding communities.
To get a better glimpse of how much farms contribute to their local economies, American Farmland Trust undertook a study of two counties in Vermont—Addison and Franklin—where agriculture is a significant industry. Farming is one of the largest land uses in both counties. In 1997, Addison County had 205,000 acres in farms, on 42 percent of the county’s land base, while Franklin County had 190,215 acres in farms, covering 47 percent of the county. The study showed that Addison and Franklin county farms:
• Add hundreds of millions of dollars a year to the local economy
• Provide one out of every ten jobs
• Generate more than one-tenth of all the farm sales in New England