Most evenings, Gary Mithoefer can be found at the end of a long gravel driveway off a busy highway, tending two garden plots filled with white sweet potatoes, squash, cabbages, and a dozen other vegetables still thriving in early fall. The 62-year-old, who gardens after his workday ends at his state highway job, is one of a growing number of Americans rolling up their sleeves and digging into the dirt to raise crops or livestock on a small scale.
His is among the 300,000 new farms that have sprung up since 2002, a growing number of which have fewer acres, lower sales, and younger operators who also work off-farm than in the past. The produce and meat raised by these "hobby farms" provide much of the food found at the nation's farmers' markets and roadside stands, said an agricultural economics professor; many of the farms raise specialized crops and practice organic or sustainable farming.
(Read more farm stories.)