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Tue Jun 18, 2019, 01:00 AM

America Loves the Idea of Family Farms. That's Unfortunate.

http://nymag.com/intelligencer/2019/06/america-loves-the-idea-of-family-farms-thats-unfortunate.html

Really good piece

Family farms are central to our nation’s identity. Most Americans, even those who have never been on a farm, have strong feelings about the idea of family farms — so much that they’re the one thing that all U.S. politicians agree on. Each election, candidates across the ideological spectrum roll out plans to save family farms — or give speeches about them, at least. From Little House on the Prairie to modern farmer’s markets, family farms are also the core of most Americans’ vision of what sustainable, just farming is supposed to look like.

But as someone who’s worked in agriculture for 20 years and researched the history of farming, I think we need to understand something: Family farming’s difficulties aren’t a modern problem born of modern agribusiness. It’s never worked very well. It’s simply precarious, and it always has been. Idealizing family farms burdens real farmers with overwhelming guilt and blame when farms go under. It’s crushing.

...

Farming has almost always existed on a larger social scale—very extended families up to whole villages. We tend to think of medieval peasants as forebears of today’s family farms, but they’re not. Medieval villages worked much more like a single unit with little truly private infrastructure—draft animals, plows, and even land were operated at the community level. Family farming as we know it— nuclear families that own their land, pass it on to heirs, raise some or all of their food, and produce some cash crops—is vanishingly rare in human history.

It’s easy to see how Anglo-Americans could mistake it for normal. Our cultural heritage is one of the few places where this fluke of a farming practice has made multiple appearances. Family farming was a key part of the political economy in ancient Rome, late medieval England, and colonial America. But we keep forgetting something very important about those golden ages of family farming. They all happened after, and only after, horrific depopulation events.

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Response to Recursion (Original post)

Tue Jun 18, 2019, 01:16 AM

1. something to think about

thanks

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Response to Recursion (Original post)

Tue Jun 18, 2019, 01:29 AM

2. As the last in a line of a multiple generations of farmers, this does not match my reality.

Our family farm will be sold when my parents die - neither my brother nor I will continue it (and even if we were inclined, we are both in our 60s, and live 1000 & 1500 miles away, respectively). That said, our family (including cousins) ran several family farms - alone, or (in my father's case) with other members of the same extended family. My cousins still farm my grandfather's home place.

At least where I grew up, although each family largely operated independently - there was plenth of collaboration. Large equipment that was needed once a year (planting and harvesting) was sometimes shared. Crews were definitely shared. Different farms were ready to plant or harvest at different times. Family and neighboring farms evaluate whose crops needed to be tended to first, and they all worked as a team to get the work done on each person's farm. My chief job was chief cook and bottle washer - and when there were work crews, that meant making enough field-ready food to serve the crew when they were working on our farm.

But - the collaboration tended to be among groups of perhaps 5 farms (not the nearly 100 people cited in the articles).

My father (now in his 80s) finally has the time to make his farm more efficient - so he has sectioned his pasture land into small enough sections so that the cattle can completely graze each section before moving on to the rest - doubling the efficiency of the pastureland. That was a luxury he could not afford when he was doing the backbreaking work of day-to-day farming.

And - as my mother always said - my father dosn't gamble (in any traditional sense). We come from a faith tradition that bans gambling. But farming (and crop/livestock futures) are his means of gambling.

I am not at all arguing that family farming is monumentally hard. But the article seems to be urging community (i.e on a scale approaching 100) owned farming. That is unnecessary - and dimniishes the benfeit to the community that comes from being comprised of an equivalent number of smaller family-owned businesses (farms).

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Response to Ms. Toad (Reply #2)

Tue Jun 18, 2019, 02:07 AM

3. Right there with ya!! My Father's family homesteaded land in 1842. Remained in the family for 150

Years. They survived and thrived pretty much as you described. I also remember my father talking about the 5 yr plan. 2 years of good to fairly good harvest, 2 years of not so good to marginal harvest and 1 year a bust. Seems a good plan, maybe needs to be looked at again.

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Response to Ms. Toad (Reply #2)

Tue Jun 18, 2019, 02:09 AM

4. I wonder if that will happen here

I am staying at a 200 acre sheep farm and B&B in Ireland way up north in the republic. The farmer here in late 50’s works hard on his farm and is very involved in the community but both his kids went to college in Scotland and stayed there having no desire to farm.

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Response to Ms. Toad (Reply #2)

Tue Jun 18, 2019, 02:05 PM

5. not many farms last more than 3 or 4 generations, and the cost of land is a huge factor

it is closely related to population numbers. I think part of the point of the article was that there have only been a few instances historically where this worked and there is/was a dark side to it. I am the 4th generation on our family place and hope that some or all of my kids will follow but I also know that is pretty rare. I know of a number of other families that have been in the business for many generations, but not on the same place.

Land around here is going for better than 10K/acre and that is with no water! a nearby ranch that could maybe run 20 to 50 pairs (NOT enough to live on, much less service land debt) is up for sale again at over 4 million and they have had to haul water for the last 10 years. It is a very tenuous position for people to be sitting on millions of dollars worth of land and not be able to pay the electric bill...

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Response to Recursion (Original post)

Tue Jun 18, 2019, 02:51 PM

6. The U.S.A. cult of small family farms and small business is ugly and harmful...

... but there are too many billionaires making money off it, even as they crush the hopes and dreams of those ignorant enough to fall for the scam.

It wouldn't be so bad if the U.S.A. had stronger social safety nets, such as universal healthcare, universal safe comfortable housing, and healthy food for all, so that nobody who crashed would burn.

Mandatory life imprisonment for predatory lenders might also be a good thing.

But until then, there's a sucker born every minute, and plenty of people willing to bet that their own small farm or small business endeavor will be one of the few that succeeds.

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Response to Recursion (Original post)

Tue Jun 18, 2019, 03:08 PM

7. Family farms are extremely labor dependent

They were doing great as long as there was slavery, indentured servitude or helpless migrants. As all these sources have dried up, the small operators who cannot afford modern automation are barely surviving.

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