What is a "Family Farm"?
A family farm is a farm owned and operated by a family, and often passed down from generation to generation. It is the basic unit of the mostly agricultural economy of much of human history and continues to be so in developing nations. Alternatives to family farms include those run by agribusiness, colloquially known as factory farms, or by collective farming.
From the USDA:
As defined by USDA regulations to farm loan programs (e.g. those administered by the Farm Service Agency), a family farm is a farm that produces agricultural commodities for sale in such quantities so as to be recognized in the community as a farm and not a rural residence; produces enough income (including off-farm employment) to pay family and farm operating expenses, pay debts, and maintain the property; is managed by the operator; has a substantial amount of labor provided by the operator and the operator’s family; and may use seasonal labor during peak periods and a reasonable amount of full-time hired labor.
(For exact language, see 7 U.S.C. 1941.4,1943.4).
In the U.S., the "Family Farm" is viewed sentimentally, as a lifestyle to be preserved for tradition's sake.
Until the 1950’s, the heads of the household were usually the oldest man followed closely by his oldest sons. The wife generally took care of the housework, child rearing, and financial matters pertaining to the farm. However, agricultural activities of today have taken on many forms and changed drastically over time.
Farm wives often need to find work away from the farm to supplement farm income and most children have no interest in farming as their chosen field of work. Until a cure for laziness is discovered, I’m afraid the traditional "Family Farms" of our country are going to continue to disappear and the lands that were once worked by Father and Son or Grandfather and Grandson will continue to be bought up by Mega-industrialized "Farms", or they will simply be re-claimed by nature as is what seems to be most common in our area of North East PA.
Promoters of the traditional family farm argue that as agriculture has become more efficient with the application of modern management and new technologies in each generation, the idealized classic family farm is now simply obsolete, or more often, unable to compete without the economies of scale available to larger and more modern farms. Advocates argue that family farms in all nations need to be protected, as the basis of rural society and social stability.
In South Eastern Pennsylvania there are huge amounts of farms being "preserved" or protected from residential or industrial development. In North East PA, the natural Gas & oil boom of the last 5 years has made any type of preservation of farm impossible. The "Boom" has been beneficial to many farmers whom have struggled all their lives to make ends meet, but very few have invested their new found wealth back into their farms. Many have just stopped all production, and the farms are literally falling down around them. Our immediate neighbor to West is a perfect example. Their barn use to be a show-piece of our community. They have a natural Gas well with two well heads, and they have been properly compensated for the land they lost due to the access road and 5 acre well pad. But their main barn that still has over 60 milking cow’s in it is in danger of imminent collapse. On the other side of the hill, another dairy farmer is nearing completion of his new free-stall barn and milking parlor that will more than quadruple his families milking herd size.
I’ve been struggling with finding a concrete definition of what a true, traditional "Family Farm" is. Our only child is grown, married and raising a family of her own off-farm. Therefore my wife and I are the only ones taking care of the day-to-day chores and business requirements of an operation our size. I’ve always enjoyed the history and simplicity of farming in the early to mid-1900’s. Things seemed to be less hectic, simpler, more hands-on, more enjoyable. I think that size of the land worked and the number of animals on the farm should define what is or isn’t a "Family Farm". Personally, I don’t think of a 2,000 acre, 10,000 sow or 3,000 head cattle operation is a "Family Farm". It might be owned by a family, but if you have an on-farm feed-mill bigger than what most rural communities have to service a 2-3 county area, that’s more commercial or industrialized than what I think of as a family enjoyed operation.
I realize that most of you are thinking that I need to get into the 20th and 21st century way of farming, or do I? What’s wrong with wanting things to be more personal, or community minded? I didn’t grow up in the 40’s or 50’s, maybe I would have been better off back than. I can’t believe that I’m the only one who when asked "what do you think of when asked what do you consider to be a Family Farm?", thinks of a 100-200 acre farm where the farmer raises a couple dozen cows, pigs, chickens and veggies. And still plants and harvests his own forages and grains without the need for a tractor that costs more than an F-16 fighter jet! O.K. they don’t cost that much, but if you’ve priced anything new recently you know what I mean.
I guess I’ll end this week’s blog by simply saying thank you. Thank you for first of all reading this entire blog while I vent. I feel a little better being able to state my feelings about what I feel this country is loosing site of. The "Traditional Family sized Farm". I’m sure I’m going to get quite a few comments about my latest rant, but it’s been a while since I’ve un-intentionally offended anyone and received any creative criticisms.