Sustaining the Family Farm at the Rural Urban Interface: Farm Succession Processes of Alternative Food and Agricultural Enterprises and Traditional Commodity Farmers.

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2006: $9,995.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Grant Recipient: Ohio State University
Region: North Central
State: Ohio
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Jeff Sharp
Ohio State University

Annual Reports

Information Products


  • Agronomic: corn, soybeans
  • Fruits: general
  • Vegetables: general
  • Animals: bovine
  • Animal Products: dairy


  • Animal Production: feed/forage, free-range, housing, manure management, pasture fertility
  • Crop Production: application rate management, no-till
  • Education and Training: farmer to farmer, focus group, mentoring, networking, on-farm/ranch research
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns, community-supported agriculture, cooperatives, marketing management, new enterprise development, whole farm planning
  • Natural Resources/Environment: grass waterways, habitat enhancement, hedges - grass, wetlands, wildlife
  • Pest Management: biological control, integrated pest management
  • Soil Management: composting, green manures
  • Sustainable Communities: analysis of personal/family life, employment opportunities, new business opportunities, partnerships, public participation, social capital, urban/rural integration


    Family farming has historically been reproduced through a complex process of farm succession. This process of intergenerational transfer of the farming occupation and farmland from parents to children is becoming more tenuous as an increasing number of farmers lack a farming heir. The absence of an heir may be especially problematic at the rural-urban interface (RUI), where farmland is already at risk of being developed for non-farm purposes. While activists and academics have touted a shift into urban oriented alternative food and agricultural enterprises (AFAEs) as a strategy for preserving farmland and farming at the RUI, a longer-term challenge to the viability of this adaptation may be the success of the succession process. The failure of AFEAs to persist across generations may result in these enterprises simply being transitional forms of farming before conversion to urban uses.


    For this dissertation, three research objectives are tested to assess how household goals and values, succession, life cycle effects, farm structure, and land use policy affect the reproduction of the farming enterprise and ultimately the successful persistence of farming at the RUI. The first two questions are examined through a quantitative analysis of land owners in eight case study counties across the United States. The first question asks how household dynamics, household values and farm structure variables are associated with Commercial farm persistence at the RUI. The second research question compares the influence of household dynamics, values and farm structure among the Commercial (AFAE and Non-AFAE) and Rural Residential farmers. Comparison of means testing and a multinomial logistic regression model found lifecycle effects, availability of an heir, ability to afford retirement, education, substantive and instrumental values and to a more moderate degree farm type do influence farm persistence and adaptation strategies.

    The third research question is a qualitative analysis examining the influence household factors and farm structure have on different farm types (First-generation AFAEs; Multi-generation AFAEs; Commodity, and Mixed type farms) at the RUI. When no heir could be identified farms either fell into a state of decline and disinvestment or opted to put their land into some form of preservation. When an heir could be identified, families engaged in four distinct types of adaptation strategies: the expanders; the intensifiers; the stackers; and the entrepreneurial stackers.

    The interviews also brought forward the different types of AFAE farmers on the landscape. First-generation AFAE, Multi-generation AFAE and Mixed type farms demonstrate that while farmers across the RUI landscape appear to be adapting and implementing AFAE strategies their reasons for doing so are embedded in widely varying motivations.

    Project objectives:

    A pressing issue facing Ohio and U.S. agriculture is the question of who will be the next generation of farmers. In recent years, the popular press, government reports, and academic papers have documented an aging farm population, a lack of succession planning, and the existence of fewer heirs choosing farming as an occupation. The absence of a farm succession plan or an identified heir may threaten the future of family farming and the rural communities that depend on them. At the rural-urban interface (RUI), an area distinguished by a high population growth and development pressure with varying rates of farmland being converted to non-farm purposes; a failure of the succession process can also impact whether farmland remains available for agricultural use.

    At the RUI, farmers have been encouraged to transition from traditional commodity production (corn, beans, dairy etc.) to Alternative Food and Agriculture Enterprises (AFAE) focused on direct marketing, agri-tourism and value added production geared toward new urban clientele as a strategy for saving the family farm by increasing farm profitability. The goal of this research is to comprehend how the processes of succession contributes to farm enterprise persistence and adaptation at the RUI

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.