Agriculture of the Middle (AOTM) encompasses a spectrum of farms and ranches that are declining because they are too small to be served well by commodity markets and too large or otherwise unsuited to be served well by direct markets. Most AOTM farms are characterized by their types of production and crops, their business organization, their geographic location, their access to markets, and the production and marketing strategies they adopt to remain viable.
Size: It is important to recognize that the definition of AOTM farms and ranches is scale related but not scale determined. Of most concern are farms in the $50,000-$500,000 range of gross sales, termed the “disappearing middle” because of their falling numbers. But there may be farms with higher or lower gross sales that meet the other criteria.
Business organization: AOTM farms and ranches tend to fall into either the farming occupation farms, the small family farms or midsize family farms categories of the USDA farm typology. They rely on farming as a key source of income for the household. They also tend to be businesses in which one or more family members make the majority of on-site management decisions, and contribute substantially to the labor requirements of the operation.
Marketing strategies: Agriculture of the Middle as a term also refers to a “marketing middle” or marketing strategies that fall between direct marketing and commodity marketing. These strategies enable mid-sized farms and ranches to produce and retain more value and profit, and access new markets. Many successful AOTM businesses supply markets that are larger than most farm-direct markets and more differentiated than commodity markets. Many but not all AOTM farms/ranches participate in business organizations that serve as product aggregators (e.g. co-ops, LLCs, etc.)
Values-based food supply chains are strategic business alliances among farms/ranches of the middle and other agrifood enterprises that: (a) handle significant volumes of high-quality, differentiated food products, (b) operate effectively at multi-state, regional levels, and (c) distribute profits equitably among the strategic partners. Values-based food supply chain business models place emphasis on both the values associated with the food and on the values associated with the business relationships within the food supply chain.