Urban Ag Counts Survey Results

Posted on June 13, 2024 by Alicia Alferman

Over the last few months, Cultivate KC and its partners, KC Healthy Kids, KC Black Urban Growers, K-State Extension’s Growing Growers program, and KC Farm School, have been gathering data related to farmers in the metro in the form of our Urban Ag Counts! (UAC!) survey. Insights from this data will best equip staff from these organizations to advocate for growers in all parts of the metro.  

This data gathering endeavor also synchronized nicely with the release of the 2022 Agricultural Census. The Ag Census is a national survey conducted once every 5 years. It tells the story of the ag industry and its members, including demographic makeup, land use practices, economic impact, and salient trends and changes between current and former Ag Census data.

This offered us the opportunity to present findings from the Urban Ag Counts! survey and compare those findings with findings from the Ag Census.

Let’s dive in, shall we?

Demographics

Let’s start with some demographics. For several successive ag censuses, the average age of farmers has been rising as farmers age and fewer younger folks are entering the field. In the 2022 Ag Census, just over 63% of farmers were over the age of 55 (the average farmer age is 58), while just over 7% were between the ages of 25-34, and 12.6% were 35-44. Comparing these numbers to Urban Ag Counts! (UAC!) data provides some interesting contrasts. Just under 27% of UAC! respondents were over the age of 55. Meanwhile, 14% were 25-34, and 33% were between the ages of 35-44.

Race and Ethnicity similarly yielded interesting comparisons between UAC! and national, state, and county level data sets.

As you can see, white farmers made up the majority across all levels of data. However, there was more diversity in race/ethnicity among the UAC! respondents, with 65% of respondents identifying as white, 23% black or African American, and 4% Hispanic or Latina/o/x.

Lastly, gender identity also showed some differences between the national level and UAC! There was a near inversion between male/female respondents on each of these surveys, with ag census data indicating 64% male respondents and 36% female respondents, and UAC! data indicating 37% male respondents and 57% female respondents. It should be noted that UAC! data also indicated 4% of respondents identifying as non-binary or third gender. The Ag Census does not currently offer non-binary/third gender as a selection option.

Farm Stats

Two primary differences between the UAC! data and Ag Census data are farm size and the types of crops being grown.

The average farm size in the US according to census data is 463 acres. In Missouri the average is 308 acres, and in Jackson County its 137 acres. The average farm size according to UAC! respondents was between ¼ and ½ acre. This discrepancy, although not terribly surprising, represents a trend of large farms growing ever larger and small farms shrinking or disappearing altogether. This holds true for urban or peri-urban farms that have to deal not only with this farm succession issue, but also with issues of creeping development as metropolitan populations grow.

This also represents an incredible opportunity for government agencies, politicians, and nonprofits. The needs of a small urban farm are in many cases starkly different from those of large commodity farm operations. This idea is further solidified when farm products are taken into consideration. 93% of UAC! respondents were growing vegetables, while only 3.65% of total farms in the Ag Census indicated growing vegetables for sale. Clearly the needs of a farm consisting mostly of vegetable production can differ greatly from those of a farm growing primarily grains or raising livestock.

Farm Work

Both UAC! and the Ag Census collect data on any supplemental work farmers are doing off farm. In UAC!, we find that around 1/3 of respondents indicated they spent a majority of their time working non-farm related jobs. An additional 1/3 indicated spending a majority of their work time on farm, and around 20% indicated a 50/50 split between on and off farm work. On the national scale, just over 41% of producers indicated farm work as their primary occupation, and 58% indicated work other than farming as their primary occupation.

On average, the farms represented in the UAC! data had fewer than 1 person working full time on farm. These farms also hosted an average of 35 unpaid workers per year, including volunteers, interns, fellows, and more.

Markets

Lastly, we’ll look at end markets. For UAC! in particular, we wanted to know what avenues producers were utilizing the most to sell their products. As you can see from the chart below, a majority of farmers are utilizing farmers markets in the area. KC has a large array of farmers markets covering many parts of the metro (check out the Farmers Market Passport for more info on participating markets in the metro). We also see online sales, CSAs, and restaurants as other top markets for producers’ products.  

Takeaways

The UAC! and Ag Census give us significant insights into what we mean when we use the word ‘farmer’. Cultivate KC and its partners will continue to utilize these data sets to better advocate for farmers in a variety of settings, including in policy discussions, potential funding opportunities, and more. We also hope to dig into more details in the coming months to determine barriers and challenges farmers in the metro face. All this data will be used to improve our programs and make overall conditions more favorable for farming in the KC metro.


Are you a farmer in the Kansas City area? It’s not too late to share your story!

URBAN AG COUNTS! SURVEY