Every week it seems there is an item in the news addressing the difficulties facing the family farm.But what is a family farm and how are they different from industrial farms?
Very simply, a family farm is a community where most of the work is done by a family member.This includes everything from planting vegetables and feeding animals to marketing the products grown and produced at the farm. Not only is this work done by a member of the family but it is done by individuals who usually live on the farm where they work and in many, many cases have done so for numerous generations.
The family farm represents a life style as well as a process of production. It involves the passion and commitment of individuals who in many cases could earn more income in other endeavors but stay on the farm by the choice of a way of living they consider to be a deep part of themselves and their families. Just as an artist imparts his own being and life into the painting he creates so does a family farm pour out all off who they are in the work they produce by their hands.
About 80% of the 2 million farms in the US are small farms and a large percentage of those are family farms. Many of these farmers sell their products directly to the public through such distribution channels such as food co-ops, farmers markets and the Internet.
Many farmers refer to this type of marketing as relationship marketing; where the consumer has direct contact with and knows the person who is responsible for the production of that food. It is a relationship built on trust as well as knowledge.
Between 1961 and 2001 the number of US farms dropped from 3.82 million to 2.17 million. This accounts for a loss on average of 41,333 farms per year. Most of the loss was in family farms.These farms are rapidly being replaced by large industrial farms that specialize in the mass production of food.Food is fast becoming a mass produced commodity product with little connection to the land.
A family farm usually produces a wider variety of plants and more diverse breeds of animals than an industrial farm.Corporate farms think in terms of quantity rather than quality, the present rather than the future and shareholder value rather than the standard of living in the local community.
The family farm stands in the gap for those who would choose the harder work but satisfaction of producing a product of greater quality or value over the production of greater quantity as a means of judging success..In the groves, family farmers have personally nurtured the trees since seedlings.In the vegetable fields, family famers plant the seeds and watch them grow, tending them with their own hands. In the production of livestock, family farmers show respect and care for a product that has a face.
There is reason for hope that the environment for the family farm is improving. Consumers are becoming more concerned about the quality of the food they are buying and they are interested in where their food comes from.
The 2002 Census of Agriculture demonstrates a 37% increase since 1997 in direct sales to the consumers by farmers.Over 60% indicate their willingness to purchase food directly from the farm if given the opportunity.These figures indicate an increased consumer demand for verified sources of their food supply.
The pendlelum is shifting back from our food mainly produced by mega-farming which damages the environment and depletes nutrients from the soil and hence from our food.Factory farming, also,requires heavy inlays of chemicals and fossil fuel.
Consumers are seeking quality food they can trust hence they are finding their way back to family farm products.This exciting shift in consumer demand just may prove to save the family farm from extinction and provide a means for one of the most valued resources of our rural communities to be sustained.Paramount in this is that the youth raised on these farms are able to see the vision of their sustainability and the plausibility of returning to the family farm and making a living there.
When you support a family farm you are supporting a way of life. You are also supporting the communities that have grown up around the family farm