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Farming industry grows by going back to its roots

Established in 1752, the Easton Farmers Market remains a popular destination for farmers, vendors and consumers. (Photo courtesy of the Easton Farmers Market)

The farming industry in the Greater Lehigh Valley is vastly different in 2015 than it was in 1990.

The farming industry in the Greater Lehigh Valley is vastly different in 2015 than it was in 1990.

The region has transformed from one where long-standing farms and farmland were rapidly disappearing to one ripe with new and varied farms. And as the industry has reaped the efforts of preservation efforts, not only are there many more new farms, there are also new farmers.

The large generalized and often corporate-owned farms, which typically specialized in a single crop, have been replaced by smaller pocket farms that often produce multiple products to satisfy consumers seeking more local farm-to-table options.

“The industry is now more about direct-to-consumer sales,” said Brian Moyer, a program assistant with the Penn State Lehigh County Cooperative Extension and a Berks County livestock farmer. In fact, he said, Pennsylvania is third in the nation in direct-to-consumer farm sales.

In many ways, the Greater Lehigh Valley farm is seeing a return to its roots – to the first half of the 20th century before development dramatically altered the landscape.

The latest farm census, in 2012, shows that there are about 35 percent more farms in Berks, Lehigh and Northampton counties when compared to 1992.

“These farms are a little smaller in acreage than they were in 1992, but overall there are more of them,” Moyer said.

Moreover, those farms are being operated by newer farmers. That same census showed 25 percent of the nation’s farms were run by people considered “new farmers” – those with 10 or fewer years in the industry – a figure Moyer called a dramatic change for an industry that people traditionally were born into.

As a working livestock farmer for 20 years, Moyer said he understands the changes that have come about in recent decades, but he said to explain why farming is so radically different today, one needs to look back even further.

Before World War II, farming looked more like what it is evolving into today, Moyer said. Pennsylvania and the nation were populated with mostly small, family owned farms that generally served the community within a specific geographic boundary.

Stacy Wescoe
Writer and online editor Stacy Wescoe has her finger on the pulse of the business community in the Greater Lehigh Valley and keeps you up-to-date with technology and trends, plus what coworkers and competitors are talking about around the water cooler — and on social media. She can be reached at stacyw@lvb.com or 610-807-9619, ext. 4104. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook.

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