The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that the farmers market boom over the past decade may be slowing down – just a bit. The USDA also reports that food sales at local farm stands, markets, and other similar venues are also waning.

The USDA reported in January that food sales at farmers markets dropped one percent from 2007 to 2012 after increasing between 32 to 37 percent from 1997 to 2006. And while the number of farmers markets continues to grow, that growth has slowed down considerably in the past two years, increasing by only two percent.

Despite this trend, the number of farmers selling directly to consumers continues to rise. What’s more, this slight downturn in the popularity of farmers markets may actually be a good thing for farmers. Consumers and farmers list the following upsides to the slowing of the skyrocketing popularity of farmers markets:

  1. Farmers markets aren’t particularly cost-effective. Farmers markets offer slim profit margins, especially when you consider the work it takes to prepare for them. Plus, most farmers would rather be farming, not necessarily marketing their food.
  2. Farmers can make more money when they sell their food directly to schools, grocery stores, or co-ops. This is a win-win situation because it means people still want locally-grown food but are willing to look for it in places other than just farmers markets
  3. Buying local at bigger stores is now an option for consumers. While everyone would love to buy fresh local food straight from the farm, times are tight. That means many consumers simply can’t afford to pay the premium prices that some farmers markets charge. Whether or not it is true, people perceive that grocery store food is cheaper. Now they are able to get local food at grocery store prices.

As is the case with everything to do with farming, ingenuity is key. Therefore, while farmers markets continue to be popular, most farmers realize that they need to sell their goods in a variety of ways. That means selling delicious, healthy foods to co-ops, big grocery store chains, schools, and, of course, to community members at the local farmers market.

Farming can sometimes be overwhelming. Marriage can be, too! Put farming and marriage together and you really have a challenge. However, ask most farming couples and they will tell you that they wouldn’t trade their lives for all the money in the world. It’s important that you put time and effort into your marriage but the demands of the farm can make that difficult. That’s because separating work and home life is not always easy. It also is difficult to forget about work when your work is all around you all of the time. Further, much about farming is driven by weather and many other unforeseen circumstances. Some jobs on the farm simply cannot wait until tomorrow.

So how do you strike the necessary balance between running your farm and keeping your marriage healthy and happy? Below are some tips for helping to keep your relationship going strong no matter what stresses you may be experiencing on the farm. Whether you incorporate all of these tips into your marriage or just one, you’ll be amazed at the difference small changes can make when it comes to the health of your marriage.

  1. Plan time together off the farm. This can be difficult but if you make your plans far in advance, it can be done. It’s amazing how just a few days alone together can make you appreciate one another and remind you why you fell in love in the first place! Try to go on a date night. Even if you can only do it once a month, it will give you something to look forward to between dates! Go to church together on Sundays, and maybe to breakfast afterward.
  2. Take time to talk things over when something is bothering you – but make sure the time is right. The right time is NOT when one of you is on the way out the door or late at night after a long or stressful day! Make sure you choose your words carefully, as well. A calm conversation will be much more productive than a screaming match!
  3. You both work hard to keep the farm running smoothly. It’s amazing how much it means to your spouse when you tell him or her that you appreciate all they do. Don’t assume the other person knows it, either! It’s amazing how many men will say that his wife should know he is working hard for her and their family, and vice versa. And even if your spouse does know that he or she is appreciated, it is still nice to hear!
  4. Check in on each other during the day. With cell phones, this is much easier than it was years ago. No matter how busy or stressed you are with the cattle, crops, or keeping the house, you need to make the time to touch base and say, “I love you and hope your day is going well.”
  5. Realize that you are in this together. If you start adopting the attitude that you need to take care of your needs first, chances are your spouse will adopt the same attitude. The more you help and nurture your spouse, the more your spouse will want to do the same for you.

Pork is one of the most widely eaten foods throughout the world. It is no surprise then that raising pigs is one of the most profitable business ventures.

While pig farming is not particularly difficult, it is time consuming and takes a lot of energy. If you are considering adding pigs to your farming operation, or are contemplating raising pigs exclusively, it is important that you know exactly what is involved in raising pigs.

There are two ways to raise pigs: pasturing pigs or raising them in a barn. Pasturing pigs is a viable option as long as you have enough land and that land is soil and grass rich. It also will be necessary to fence in your pigs to prevent them from wandering too far afield. Young pigs need to be fenced in even smaller areas because they need to remain close to food and water.

While pigs rarely set out to destroy fencing, adult pigs are very strong and can do damage without trying very hard. When building a fence for your pigs, make sure that you use strong wood or other fencing material and that you dig the poles deep into the ground since pigs like to dig. As a general rule, every pig should have about one-tenth of an acre of pasture.

Raising pigs in a barn has its advantages. Cleaning up after pigs raised in a barn is relatively simple; you can better control what the pigs consume; and a barn provides much-needed shade for pigs.

Your pig barn should be divided into two areas. As a general rule the feeding area should be about 10 feet by 10 feet for every two pigs and the resting area should be about half that size, or five feet by five feet. The best pig barns are concrete and have a sloped floor so that when you use a hose to clean the barn the water will drain away easily.

If you are committed to raising pigs, experienced pig farmers list the following helpful hints to help make sure that your endeavor is both profitable and enjoyable:

  • Bigger and meatier pigs bring in the most money. Make sure your pigs get the correct amount of nutrients but try to avoid supplements. If you are grazing your pigs, make sure there is plenty of pasture grass available.
  • Never feed your pigs potatoes or raw meat – both can be toxic to these animals. While pigs will eat almost anything, that doesn’t mean that they should.
  • Control the amount of food your pigs consume. If your pigs are trough-fed, it is important that there is no food left in the trough after 30 minutes. If there is, you are overfeeding. This is not only bad for your pigs, you will waste money in food costs.
  • Plenty of fresh water is essential to healthy pigs. Keep in mind that pigs like to clean themselves in water so make sure you clean their water troughs regularly.

Farmers are often the target of radical environmentalists who try to perpetuate the myth that farmers have absolutely no concern for the land and only see it as a means to make money. Of course nothing could be further from the truth.

Since such negative propaganda can have a detrimental impact on the agricultural industry in general, and farmers in particular, it is important that these misrepresentations are not allowed to go unchallenged. What follows are some facts that can be used to clearly and correctly contradict the inaccuracies promoted by many radical environmentalists:

  • As landowners, farmers have helped to install more than two million miles of conservation buffers. These buffers not only improve air, soil, and water quality, they also provide wildlife habitats.
  • Speaking of wildlife habitats, more than 50 percent of American farmers say they intentionally provide habitat for wildlife. Such measures have led to population increases for species including deer, fowl, and moose.
  • Crop rotation has long been – and continues to be – one important way farmers take care of the land they grow crops on.
  • Conversation tillage has grown by almost 50 percent in the past 30 years. This method of farming reduces erosion and also uses less energy. On a related note, total land used for crops overall has decreased by 15 percent in the same time period.
  • Farmers are adopting – at many times at a much faster rate than the general population – alternative energy sources. These include wind power and renewable fuels like ethanol and biodiesel. Such energy sources are beneficial to the environment as they leave a smaller environmental footprint than other petroleum-based fuels.

Obviously, farmers list protecting the land on which they make their living as one of their most important priorities. After all, why would they want to destroy the very thing that sustains their livelihood? It would be well for critics of farmers to remember that long before “environmentalism” came into vogue farmers were the original stewards of the land. Further, since the early 1930s federal farm programs have included provisions to help farmers protect wetlands and other delicate land.

It is important that farmers and those who support them have the ammunition to fight off farming’s many critics. Especially since these critics only seem to be interested in disparaging honest farmers who work long and hard to not only protect the land but also provide our nation’s abundant, safe, and nutritious food supply.

New farmers face many challenges. It is vital that this new generation be supported through these challenges since a high percentage of farmers will be retiring soon. According to many experts, the two greatest challenges young farmers face today are acquiring land and coming up with much-needed capital but there are other challenges, as well. These include developing a business plan, finding peers who they can relate to, and forging relationships with experienced farmers willing to mentor them.

Farmers will tell you that access to capital and credit are huge issues young farmers face. Today, bankers are less willing to extend credit and money is tight. This doesn’t mean that young farmers aren’t optimistic, though. In fact, over 90 percent of young farmers say they are better off than they were five years ago and they are hopeful about the future.

There are many private and government agencies willing to offer free help to young farmers having trouble coming up with a business plan for their farm. Many universities offer free business plan services for farmers and some even have advisors on staff that will collaborate with them. The USDA and the National Agricultural Information Service offers similar services, and a simple online search uncovers many others.

Social media sites are helping young farmers connect with one another in ways never before possible. If trouble arises on the farm, young farmers can post about it on Facebook or Twitter and the responses are almost immediate. Online blogs are interesting ways to catch up on the latest farming news and are an entertaining way to keep informed.

When it comes to finding an experienced farmer that will mentor a young farmer, there are several organizations working hard to make sure young farmers have access to the wisdom and advice of more experienced ones. Most of these mentors struggled early on in their farming career and want to give back to young farmers who may be having a hard time, as well.

The importance of these mentoring relationships cannot be underestimated. In the past, young people learned at the feet of their parents and then took over the family farm. This is no longer the case so it is imperative that experienced farmers pass on their knowledge to non-relatives. Only in this way can a new generation of farmers benefit from their experience.

So while some difficulties such as land acquisition, cash flow, and credit issues, will probably never be completely resolved, others problems have some creative solutions. This creativity is breeding a whole new generation of farmers who have a lot of people to lean on to make a go of it in the agriculture industry.

When it comes to great tasting fruits and vegetables, you definitely cannot judge a book by its cover. But if some of the best tasting produce is less than perfect on the outside, why do consumers insist on buying only the most aesthetically pleasing?

This question is even more perplexing when you consider that more and more agricultural experts are telling us that the most beautiful fruits and vegetables aren’t always the healthiest or best tasting. In fact, in most cases, the only advantage of such produce is its ability to sell quickly.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, approximately six billion pounds – or 20 percent – of produce that is grown in the United States is thrown away each year because of its appearance.

So who is to blame for this search for the perfect fruit or vegetable? There’s plenty to go around. First, the USDA stipulates that commercially grown fruits and vegetables must be 90 percent blemish-free. Next, marketers are always on the lookout to photograph only the most aesthetically-pleasing fruits. These camera-ready specimens are hard for the average piece of produce to live up to and set an unrealistically high standard for fruits and vegetables. Finally, a large portion of the blame must be put on consumers.

When shopping for produce, most consumers select food based on how it looks rather than how it smells or how it will taste. This means that many fruits and vegetables are rejected solely on appearance rather than on taste, quality, or ripeness.

Thankfully, there is a new trend toward average-looking fruits and vegetables. Experts are pushing the message that perfect on the outside doesn’t necessary mean better tasting. In fact, pull an apple straight off a tree and it might not look perfect but it sure tastes that way!

There are several companies working to minimize waste by delivering less than perfect fruit directly to consumers. Farmers and consumers can both benefit from doing business this way. Farmers will be able to sell crops that would normally be bound for the landfill and consumers will be able to purchase produce for much less than they would pay in the grocery store – without sacrificing quality or taste. Across the country, farmers list these types of transactions as something they are very interested in pursuing.

Selling less than perfect-looking produce to restaurants is another untapped market. After all, diners don’t care how round a tomato is before it is baked into a lasagna. They only care how it tastes. And as anyone who is willing to take a bite out of an imperfect piece of produce will tell you, it doesn’t have to look perfect to taste that way.