Family-farmed or Family-owned?

Fascination with Family Farms

According to the American Farm Bureau, over 90% of farms in the U.S. are family-owned.  President Obama and politicians often espouse their support of Family Farms.  Are family-farmed and family-owned farms synonymous?  Well, it depends.

Green Acres Poster

The idea of the family farm has deep symbolic roots in American culture.  The term itself conjures up images of cows grazing in grassy fields, overalls and plaid shirts, pitchforks, vintage tractors, rustic barns, bushels of red apples and the like.  Nostalgic feelings are aroused in those that may have had the fortune of growing up on or near a farm.  Yet, the majority of the population is three generations removed from the people and the land that produce their daily bread.  Why such a fascination with family farms?

A Disappearing Life-style?

Only a small percentage of the 90+% family-owned farms actually live the mythic, idyllic life-style that comes to mind with the words Family Farm, and that percentage is now aging and shrinking.  This fact was alarming enough for the House of Representatives to include funding in the updated 2012 Farm Bill to enable young, new farmers to enter the field (pun intended).  We are mentoring a young woman, who happens to also be an ethnic minority (subject for a later post), to possibly take over our farm someday.  In fact, there is a renewed interest among young people to own “a bit o’ earth” like Mary Lennox in the Secret Garden.  This is encouraging to say the least.

What IS a Family Farm?

So, do family-owned and family-farmed mean the same thing?  Large farms tend to be owned by family members and managed by someone else.  Family members are in charge of the day-to-day business of the farm and may or may not spend much time in the fields.  Small farms are owned, managed and farmed by the family members.  Depending upon the size of the farm, there may be outside employees or not.  We have no year-round employees, other family farms we know do employ people year-round to do field work and/or sell produce at farmer’s markets.

Washington: wheat fields in eastern Washington

Wheat fields in eastern Washington, U.S.
Paul Stover—Stone/Getty Images

Whether family-farmed and family-owned are synonymous depends on how you picture a family farm.  What is your definition of a family farm?  Does it include whether or not the farmer smells of diesel and dirt at the end of the day?  Do you picture a well-dressed couple sampling a glass of wine they produced from their vineyard?  Do you see endless fields of grain being harvested by a huge combine?

I’d love to hear your idea of what a Family Farm means.

Categories: agblog, family farm, farming, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments

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5 thoughts on “Family-farmed or Family-owned?

  1. David, thanks for your thoughtful comments. I don’t think you’re alone when you picture a family farm as a small farm, although, as I mentioned, that is not always the case. The concept of “family” is also a term that elicits different meanings for different people. I think I alluded to that with my example of the couple toasting with wine from their vineyard.

  2. David Carlson

    I am reminded of Thomas Jefferson saying that “we should be a nation of small farmers, each family able to sustain itself”. No mention of slave labor, although he did use slaves on his small farm. Maybe it wasn’t so small. So anyway, I picture a family farm as not so big. “The Real Dirt on Farmer John” was an entertaining documentary on the beginnings of a small cooperative farm. I am encouraged that the House of Representatives understands that tax dollars are well spent on farmers. Small farmers, not the mega corporations. And then, in today’s society, we gotta re-imagine what family means. Would love to hear a bio on the young woman that you are mentoring.

  3. Janice, I’m glad my blog prompted a response. I think we agree that a diversity of farming types is important. I look forward to reading your further thoughts on this in your blog.

  4. I like the way you are framing it up but I’m not sure my view matches exactly, but heck I’ll throw it out here anyway. 🙂 For me, family farms are as diverse as our families are. If you look at my family, we have all sorts of differences within it if you simply go out to the net my grandparents cast. And I think that is the same sort of diversity we should appreciate in farming.

    Sure, my family may have a crazy aunt who does things differently than anyone else in the family, but she has burst of brilliance too. I see farms that are like my brother’s organic coop, where he refers to a large part of his land as a garden. But I also see expansive wheat fields as my family loves pasta & bread and can’t imagine where we’d do without all those plains states growing things for us. I like going to the local farmers’ market and buying the freshest produce available locally, but I also like to have some choices of fruits and vegetable in the grocery store that may not be local.

    For me, we don’t need to choose a certain kind of family farm, we need to celebrate our differences. And I think Nori just prompted enough thinking that I’m going to blog this for myself too! 🙂

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