Gracy Olmstead writes at National Review Online about challenges facing the traditional American family farm.

In the 1930s, the United States was home to 6.3 million farms; today, there are approximately 2.2 million, and fewer every day. The average age of today’s farmer or rancher is 59 years old, and many are retiring without a successor, as their children don’t want — or can’t afford — to take over the family business. Thus, as farms’ inheritors increasingly abandon the farm, a vacuum of stewardship opens up, leaving many wondering who, or what, will take their place. Toward

Small family farms were traditionally tied to the good of their communities and their environment: Their smallness and generational longevity helped foster communal rapport, accountability, and stewardship. But today, formerly vibrant rural communities are slowly turning into ghost towns as industrialized farms corrode the traditional relation of commerce and community that surrounded their smaller counterparts. Farmers are motivated to “get big or get out,” as President Nixon’s secretary of agriculture, Earl Butz, said in 1973, urging farmers to buy up their neighbors’ lands, and replace laborers with tractors. Without the traditional cycles of employment and production that small farms fostered, rural communities are falling apart.

Many writers who cover food production — such as Michael Pollan, author of the bestselling book The Omnivore’s Dilemma — blame the perpetuation of such circumstances on capitalism itself, arguing that the U.S. economic system enables big businesses to triumph through corruption and cruelty. But this fails to address the huge surge in consumer demand for sustainable, human-scale agricultural practices. If the market were truly a “free” one, wouldn’t it respond to this demand? Trends such as “locavorism” and the increasing number of farmers’ markets nationwide indicate some change, but the system is still rewarding practices that more and more consumers dislike.