The Disappearing Family Farm
The family farm - on its way to obsolete...
What the Time article pointed out – and surprisingly lamented – is the sad fact that small farms in America are dying out. Grocers are supplied by huge industrial farms from the four ends of the nation – and increasingly by other countries around the globe – instead of stocking local homegrown goods.
'Fresh' strawberries from the Asian markets
You add a jar of honey on sale at a very good price to your basket. What a deal! That honey, however, also comes from China where beekeepers use an antibiotic known as Chloramphenicol that is outlawed in the United States.
Some beautiful Gala apples and Muscat grapes catch your eye and are placed in the cart. The apples are “newly harvested” from New Zealand and the grapes imported from Chile. The red pepper for the lettuce grown in Mexico is from Peru. In fact, most of America’s fruits for sale in the markets are now imported.
What we ignore is that this generally means the food is picked less ripe, is a brand chosen for durability instead of flavor or nutrient content, can carry foreign air-borne bacteria etc. Do we really gain from the supposed cost savings?
But there is another greater danger: If a glitch develops in the supply chain due to a natural disaster or war, where do we get our food? The local farms and farmers are all gone. The big ones who specialize in a few crops and rely on exports to survive do not offer a solution.
This is where rural America is heading. “Get big or get out,“ Earl Butz, Nixon’s Secretary of Agriculture told farmers in the 1970s. In 2019 the Agriculture Secretary under President Trump, Sonny Perdue, echoes the same tune: “In America, the big get bigger and the small go out,“ said Perdue at the World Dairy Expo in Wisconsin last October.
Time reports that “the number of farms with more than 2,000 acres nearly doubled between 1987 and 2012, according to USDA data. The number of farms with 200 to 999 acres fell over that time period by 44%.”
The small dairy farm cannot compete with industrial giants and imports
The Rieckmann family has raised cows for milk for two centuries in a town in middle Wisconsin. The 45 cows in his barns that once would have supported the family are not enough today. He can’t compete with the big dairies.
John had hoped to leave the farm to their two sons, age 55 and 50, who still live with them and run the farm. But it looks like this won’t happen. They are $300,000 in debt, need a new tractor, and sometimes can’t even pay off the feed bill, much less the debt.
It is becoming impossible for young men to continue the family farm, raising their families there, with fathers teaching their sons how to plow, raise livestock and grow crops, mothers teaching their daughters how to bake bread, make pies, can vegetables and care for poultry. The wives work to support the farm. The children head for the universities and computer workshops. They get jobs in far-away cities and lose touch with the land, the family, the community and become part of the anonymous masses in apartments in suburbs or cities.
Combines on an industrial farm bring in the harvest
As the article notes, soon there won’t be farms dotting the landscape of rural America: “Small dairy farmer Brenda Cochran is worried about the future of her rural Pennsylvania community as more farmers give up. Two neighbor farm auctions are scheduled soon. The dairy refrigeration supply business where she buys equipment is on the verge of collapse. Young people, seeing economic despair all around them, get out as quickly as they can. “I see this as a wholesale removal – or extermination – of our rural class,” she says.
“Right now there is nothing on the horizon to turn around these rural areas. Americans are increasingly concentrating in a few metropolitan areas. By 2040, 70% of Americans will live in 15 States. The regions surrounding America’s family farms may become the country’s next ghost towns.”
The picture above of a cat sitting on an old barn, the pasture and crops in the backdrop, the woods and hills behind, raises nostalgic memories in some city-dwellers who recall the old family farm.
But, even among these, most can’t imagine a life in the country where the cat catches mice in the cold barn instead of being pampered like a baby in the house. They can’t fathom a life where you pray for rain for the crops during a dry spell; instead, oblivious to the agricultural community around them, they pray for a sunny day so a downpour does not ruin the football game.
A Bavarian village:
town & country harmonically linked
The article notes that one category of small farmers is thriving, that is, the organic farmers who charge a premium for crops and sell them locally. While this in itself is good, there is something artificial about it also.
Today organic food has become a commodity for the trendy and rich. For the lower and middle class, it entails the sacrifice of other goods and comforts just to be able to purchase good quality food and eat in a healthful way.
This is, I note, the opposite of the organic life of the past, where every man had access to the same healthful food grown in his area, sold at a reasonable price. There was, as Prof. Plinio points out, a balance between the urban and country life in which each group of persons benefitted from the other and neither lost perspective of the other.
I believe that the authorities in charge of our common good should strive to succor a whole class that is quickly disappearing. I do not understand how our politicians and religious leaders, so concerned about the animals and plants facing extinction, are blind to an entire social and economical class that is in truly endangered. A class that has constituted and still constitutes one of the important elements of our American mindset.
Posted December 2, 2019