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Family Farms vs. Corporate Farms
In the United States there are countless farms in various parts of the country. The distressing part is that most of them are corporate farms that generate one product, such as beef, for an enormous company like McDonalds. Farming has been in existence since civilization came to be and for countless years farms have been family operated. Corporate farms did not come into presence until the late twentieth century when the farming community was experiencing difficult times. That period in time gave large corporations an opening to gain a strong position in the agricultural industry. Corporations, with their seemingly endless funds, saw the opportunity to step in. Family farms have been around for centuries, and now that “family farm” way of life is endangered, including the environment and local economies, because corporate farms are progressing into the agricultural environment.
The History of Farming Farming has been at the very heart of this nation since its establishment, but not without punishing hardships, back breaking exertion, and cultural turbulence. The solid foundation of our great country’s backbone
has been constructed by family farms. Farming in the United States has been around since the seventeenth century. Years ago, family farms had to deal with difficulties we could not imagine. Starvation and diseases dealt a heavy blow to families on the harsh voyage over the ocean from Europe (Jager 4). After arriving, they had to learn to negotiate with the Native Americans, who had been here growing maize for hundreds of years. Real threats to their existence were protecting themselves from the Native American tribes, as well the risk of their crops not growing or even producing enough to sustain them over the harsh and punishing winters. In the ensuing four hundred years, farming has improved tremendously through technology to become considerably more productive in the way farmers plant, grow, and harvest crops. Currently, farmers have to cope with their crops failing occasionally, but they have crop insurance to compensate them financially if disaster strikes. Furthermore, farmers today have the advantage of machinery and chemicals to produce bigger yields. Here is an alarming statistic; in 1930 there were five million family farms in existence. In comparison, today there are only two million farms nationwide and only 565,000 farms are still family owned (“The Issues: Family Farms” 1of 3). The scary statistic of corporate farms taking over started in the early sixties, when the corporations started to sneak into the farming community to produce cheap food (Ikerd 2of 7). Another interesting fact in the history of farming is that in the eighteenth century, Thomas Jefferson had a vast impact on farming “despite the fact that he managed a large plantation where slaves did the hard work” (Jager11). Jefferson, as the President of the United States, assisted in family farms flourishing because he was a farmer himself and he supported them fully. However, he made the farming community look undesirable, cruel, and corrupt by
using slaves for the laborious farm work, so although he supported them, there was a negative side to his support. Fortunately, times have changed and we see how different farming is today.
The following section contrasts how family farmers in today’s world differ from corporate farming organizations.
A Different Breed Individuals that have been nurtured on a family farm are culturally different, but in a respectable way. When people grow up on a family farm, their work ethic is dissimilar to the people who have grown up in cities and in the suburbs. When individuals are reared and nurtured in the country or on a farm, their work ethic is stricter and they learn that they must work hard for what is wanted. Country raised folks learn that the things that are wanted are not easy to obtain, but most of the time the things that are coveted are worth working for. When corporate farms come in and purchase the land, taking profits away from established family farms, they are taking more than the land itself; they are obliterating a way of life. They are taking away an entire set of people that have an incredible work ethic that is unmatched. It would be a vast loss to our nation to lose this hard-working and honorable group of workers. Fortunately, this way of life is being regenerated in the local foods movement. Farmer’s markets in numerous areas have helped this way of life experience a rebirth or renewal, moving it away from the edge of oblivion.
The people that inhabit farms have a unique mindset, unflappable morals, and a stronger work ethic. “Sustainable family farmers today are helping to reconnect people with each other and with the earth” said John Ikerd (Ikerd 5of 7). This is because if our nation and all its’ people had the same kindness as farmers, we could possibly reduce or keep conflict out of this world to make it a more secure place for all of us to live in. In addition, if our nation would conserve money and products like farmers do, we might not be in the economic turmoil we are today. If you look at the statistics, the agricultural industry took the smallest downturn in income during the recession, due in part to the fact that farmers know how to conserve money, follow a budget, and ensure that they can stay in business another year. The following graph shows the effect of corporate farming on the 35 and younger age group of family farmers and how the numbers have shown a dramatic reduction. Changing Farmer Demographics One reason that farmers are so conservative is that they realize if they go out of business a main source of economic income as well as a way of life, will die. Yet, high land prices are making it challenging for the younger generation to get into farming, and corporate farming is moderately to blame for this. In 1997, 180,000 farmers under the age of 35 were in the business of farming. In contrast, 2007 shows that there were less than 120,000 farmers in that same age group. That is a decline of
33 percent in 11 years (Masters 2 of 3). It is increasingly getting more difficult for young farmers to get started in the farming business. Ernie Gross, an economist at Creighton University, said “even though the Federal Reserve is keeping interest rates low for the next few years, banks simply aren't lending to high-risk first-time farmers.”(Masters 2of 3) A first-time farmer cannot buy or rent land when the prices are so high. Wealthy people and corporations are buying up small farms causing land prices go through the roof (2of 3). This prevents young farm families, who are the heart and soul of the Midwest, from growing and prospering. This concern needs to be addressed or we will lose this ethical breed of farmers from our culture. Let’s see how farming families influence the environment in comparison to corporate farms.
Better For the Environment Family farms are also better for the environment because family farmers take better care of the land. For example, they know that if they overuse the land by tilling too much and using too many harmful chemicals per growing season, they cannot use it for a long time (“The Issues: Family Farms” 1of 3). Family farms do not have the financial means to go out and purchase new ground after over usage. However, corporations have the funds to buy up any land that is for sale, and if a farm they purchase is unproductive, they can pack up easily and move their operations to another location. Corporate farms frequently pollute the land, air, and small town water supplies with their overuse of chemicals. Additionally, they create overwhelming fumes and offensive manure odors (“The Issues: Family Farms” 1of 3). Farm families try to keep things clean
because they live on, or close to, their farms. Family farmers try to evade the overwhelming smell of manure and chemicals (1of 3). When farmers live on the land and it is their only means of income, they are inclined to take better care of it. Water pollution and soil erosion are of pronounced interest to a family farmer, and he will take supplementary measures to preserve his means of income. Land will have the opportunity to stay in a beneficial and productive state with a family farmer, unlike a corporate farm that does not nurture the land as a family farmer would. If a family farm is in production, this helps protect “green space” in small farming communities around the nation (“The Issues: Family Farms” 2 of 3). Another point is that if a family farm is shut down near a town, it could be sold to a housing development company or to a corporate farm owner. This, in turn could use productive farming acres for commercial development, reducing the amount of crops available for food and products. Another minus; if a corporation buys land, it is difficult to obtain permission to hunt or fish that ground. This reduces the recreational uses of the land in the “off season”. However, most farmers are happy to allow you to hunt and fish their ground. Hunting and fishing, in turn, help to keep wildlife populations under control and disease-free. Conservation practices such as hunting and fishing are also substantial contributors of revenue for these states through fishing and hunting licenses. In addition, the income brought into hotels, gas stations, and restaurants from hunters and fishermen is enormous. Along another line of thought, here is an example of how family farming is better for our environment: all farming needs fossil fuel. A family farms uses a smaller amount of fuel for its operations than a corporate farm. As a comparison, let’s say a family farm runs two tractors and one combine. It is generating minimal greenhouse gases. In contrast, if a corporate farm is
running six semis, five tractors, and six combines it is generating massive amounts of gases. Comparably, family farms safeguard the environment by using sustainable farming methods. This includes closely monitored soil erosion control, reduced amounts of chemicals, conservative use of our water resources, and using less fuel during planting and harvesting. That, however, is not the lone advantage family farms offer. Next, let’s look at the impact the family farm and corporate farming has on the economy of the small rural economies it affects the most.
Better for the Economy In the United States of America monopolies have been outlawed for a beneficial reason. Monopolies have the clout to set the price of a good or service in the marketplace. This is possible because they are the only one producing this product or providing this service. The unquestionable fears most people have concerning corporate farming is that it will become a monopoly and take over the agricultural sector of the economy (Lauck 21). However, some agree that there are some worthy points, as well. One example is when a farmer is experiencing trouble acquiring a loan because his credit has dried up, as a direct result of a few bad growing years. Magically, a corporation can swoop in and offer him a loan to stay in business (19). However, there is usually a stipulation that whatever the farmer produces has to go to the corporation’s processing plant and to the corporation stores (19). Then the double-dealing corporation, who started out being helpful by giving the farmer a loan, decides to cut out the intermediary (the farmer) and just own and run the farm entirely by itself (19).
Yet, family farms are crucial to rural communities and their economies (“The Issues: Family Farms” 2 of 3). Local workers are employed by family farms and these farmers purchase most of their goods, services, and supplies from local businesses, which helps to sustain the local economy (2 of 3). On the other hand, corporate farms employ far less workers, and purchase their goods and services from large suppliers outside of the small community (2 of 3). This in turn, leaves small rural areas with high unemployment rates and businesses that close due to decreased sales (2 of 3). Subsequently, this leads to less growth within the small communities. The vicious circle goes around and around, and there is reduced opportunity for continued growth in the economies of these small rural communities. It is not all hopeless, however.
A Better Future In conclusion, the tradition of the family farm has been a large part of our heritage. It has functioned in our favor for many centuries and produced a unique culture of ethical and honest citizens that our nation is fabricated upon. This cultural group is honorable, work-oriented, and unquestionably worth preserving. Moving away from family farms will cause this mindset to fade and conceivably disappear, becoming just an affectionate memory in our history. In addition, environmental factors have become a hot topic and concern for all, and sustaining the family farm will help to alleviate these concerns because family farmers take immeasurably better care of the land. But the strongest point of all is that family farms help small rural economies stay alive and well, flourishing and growing due to the income they bring into local businesses. That in turn, helps the overall economy expand.
Recently, there has been an intense interest in locally grown food by chefs, students, food lovers and activists. These citizens have rediscovered that home grown food and home-made meals are tastier and better for their health. The food industry has also expressed strong interest in artisanal, sustainably-raised foods that are locally grown. They are fresher and grown with less chemical additives, including pesticides. Restaurants have also started to see the benefits of locally grown produce and meats because they are fresher and healthier. Health concerns about obesity by individuals and the restaurant industry have added to this concern, too. Family farms have been around for centuries, and now the “family farm” way of life is threatened because of these corporate farms. However, it is definitely not too late to save family farms and the rural American way of life. If we support the organizations that are trying to preserve the family farm and encourage farmer’s market in our home towns, we can bring back a way of life that is worth the effort of preserving. The family farmer is the steward of the land, and we need to think about how future generations will benefit from the protection and conservation of this way of life. We need to safeguard the family farm.
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