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.
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.
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.