Over two years the member organisations of the Access to land network have compared their perspectives, explored the diverse realities and facets of small farms across Europe, as well as the challenges facing them. We soon came to realise that one of the obstacles to the continuation and future development of small farms lies in the elusive definition(s) of small farms, and the normative effects these have. In this paper, we therefore attempt to review existing definitions of small farms, to compare them with the realities that we encounter every day, and to pin down some of the implications of these definitions.
We find that available definitions of small farms, focusing on physical or economic dimension, tend to fail to grasp the diversity of small farms’ realities across Europe. This in turn makes it hard to focus support efficiently on similar groups of beneficiaries. We also found that existing EU definitions have major normative implications. They exclude a large number of small farms from statistics, hence from policy support. They also ignore the contributions of a number of small farms to food sovereignty, job creation and rural livelihoods. Finally, they tend to pressure farmers towards land consolidation, mono-activity and full time work.