Growing Cash Crops Under the Eight Acre Plan

In the late 1960s, horticulturalist Earl Shell devised a program, the Eight Acre Plan, to help small farmers in Kansas increase their annual income by growing selected types of fruit as cash crops.

| March/April 1972

  • cash crops
    Strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, and apples were to be the cash crops that would help small family farmers in Kansas.

  • cash crops

If the small family farm is so great that thousands upon thousands of us want to "get back" to one of these days, how come the families who were already on those farms left their 40 and 80-acre spreads in the first place? Well, the truth be known, most of those families didn't leave the land because they wanted to. They were forced off and — most especially since the end of World War Two — they've been forced off by a big business-big labor-big politics monster known as "agribusiness."

Now, agribusiness means a lot of things to a lot of people, but to the down-home farm family it has mostly meant a combination of spiraling costs for the fertilizers, hybrid seeds, pesticides, inoculations, barns, silos, and ever-bigger row-crop machines they were told they needed to buy to "be competitive" ... and plunging prices for those row-crop harvests they sold as they and their neighbors did, indeed, become more and more competitive.

Thanks to that squeeze, millions of small farmers — the traditional "backbone of the nation" — have been and are still being forced to sell out, move to the cities, and try to fit into an alienating world of increasing congestion, mounting pollution, rising crime, and plastic distractions that they never wanted any part of. And the big insurance companies, banks, investment organizations, and corporations continue to transform the countryside into instant suburbs and the kind of factory farms that spew out the fertilized, sprayed, treated, enhanced, fortified, processed, enriched, homogenized, and preserved foods that our advertising and marketing establishment tells us we love so dearly. It's a tragic waste of good land and good lives.

Sooner or later someone, somewhere, just naturally had to take a stand against such insane "progress." That someone was Earl Shell of Coffeyville, Kansas. Shell—an expert horticulturalist who once earned a substantial living as a garden farmer near Topeka, Kansas—has long known revenue earned by cash crops like strawberries was higher than that of other crops traditionally grown in the area; an old saying has it that, "you can make more money with an acre of strawberries than you call with 100 acres of wheat." It seemed strange to him, then, to watch one little farmer after another "starve to death on a tractor" trying to play the agribusiness game when Earl knew that those same little farmers could "prosper with a hoe."

The irony of the situation particularly galled Shell when he looked around the nine-county area where he lived in southeast Kansas' Ozarks region. By the mid-60's that area was already run down and spotted with the empty and deserted houses of what had once been reasonably prosperous small family homesteads. In 1967, the average farm income of that section of Kansas was estimated at less than $3,400 and it was obvious that just an extra $1,000 annually could well make the difference between success and failure for the families that were still trying to hold on. Earl Shell decided that he'd just dang well help each one of those families earn that $1,000 ... and maybe an extra $3,000 or $4,000 to boot!

Early in 1968, Earl joined prominent men in the Coffeyville area and began organizing Farm Products Management, a non-profit growing and marketing co-op designed to tackle the problems of southeast Kansas' little farmers with what Earl and his backers called the "Eight Acre Plan."

4/29/2013 8:14:59 AM

This article is confusing.  There is no editor's note, no context provided, just the article, which as you read into it, you discover is reprinted from 1972.  The final sentence promises a follow up, but not when.  Is the follow up part of the original 1972 article or can we look forward to a follow up in 2013?  Context would surely be helpful.  We don't know anything really, about whether this plan worked, or whether you're even going to be continuing with any updates.  It is interesting, but some editorial context would have been appreciated.


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