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December 31, 2019

With a nickname like the Green Mountain State, it’s fitting that Vermont has cultivated a sizable presence in organic farming. A LawnStarter review of data from the USDA shows Vermont leads the country for the number of organic-certified farms per 100,000 residents. The state had 556 organic-certified farms in 2016, or 89 per 100,000 residents, making it the country’s runaway winner when comparing a state’s number of organic farms with the state’s 2016 population.

In terms of sheer number of organic-certified farms, California is No. 1. According to the USDA, the Golden State had 2,713 farms in that category in 2016, or 6.9 per 100,000 residents.

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Michael Colby, executive director of Regeneration Vermont, a nonprofit advocacy group that promotes sustainable farming, says that despite those numbers, nonorganic agriculture still dominates the state.

“More than 80 percent of Vermont’s agriculture is centered in nonorganic dairying, and the number of organic dairy farms has remained stagnant—around 200—for many years,” Colby says. “As a percentage of the whole dairy industry, organic dairies are rising, but that’s exclusively due to the high rate of conventional dairies that are going out of business.”

Ben & Jerry’s and Cabot Creamery are two of the biggest players in Vermont’s dairy industry. Each year, the state produces more than $500 million worth of milk.

Dairy farming ranks as the No. 1 economic driver in Vermont’s organic agriculture sector, but production of organic fruits and vegetables also is popular, Colby says. He attributes that, at least in part, to the state’s greater-than-average number of small-scale “boutique” fruit and vegetable farmers.

Colby’s group is pressing for adoption of a statewide plan that would shift Vermont’s dairy industry entirely to organic.

“This transition is necessary because of the severe economic, environmental and animal welfare threats of conventional dairying,” he says. “This transition would dramatically reduce the number of cows and the land used to grow the GMO-corn fed to conventional dairy cows, thus freeing up land and resources to diversify our agricultural crops and products and, hopefully, putting an emphasis on local and regional consumption.”

Based on LawnStarter’s analysis of USDA and U.S. Census Bureau data from 2016, here are the 12 states where organic-certified farms are most prevalent (on a per-person basis).


Top Five for Organic-Certified Farms

1. Vermont

  • Number of organic farms: 556
  • Population: 624,594
  • Organic farms per 100,000 residents: 89.02

2. Maine

  • Number of organic farms: 494
  • Population: 1,331,479
  • Organic farms per 100,000 residents: 37.10

3. Iowa

  • Number of organic farms: 732
  • Population: 3,134,693
  • Organic farms per 100,000 residents: 23.35

4. Wisconsin

  • Number of organic farms: 1,276
  • Population: 5,778,708
  • Organic farms per 100,000 residents: 22.08

5. North Dakota

  • Number of organic farms: 114
  • Population: 757,952
  • Organic farms per 100,000 residents: 15.04

The Next 7

The upper Midwest has a strong hold on organic farms.

6. Montana

  • 156 organic farms
  • 14.96 per 100,000 residents

7. Oregon: 461; 11.26
8. South Dakota: 86; 9.94
9. Minnesota: 545; 9.87
10. Idaho: 166; 9.86
11. Washington: 677; 9.29
12. Nebraska: 162; 8.49

This story originally appeared in the March/April 2019 issue of Hobby Farms magazine.

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