If you – with other members of your family – grow corn and soybeans on 100 acres and have 10 sows, 2 goats, a dozen rabbits, 5 hens and a rooster, does that make yours a family farm? According to so-called mainstream media and several self-proclaimed experts on the subject – like urban politicians and aging country music stars – it does.
If you, with other members of your family, grow corn and soybeans on 10,000 acres, and have 10,000 sows, 200 goats, 20,000 hens and no roosters, is yours, too, a family farm? Those urban politicians and aging country music stars I mentioned probably think not. They would probably label yours a factory farm although they have not taken the time to learn about you or your practices.
I have a problem with that.
On May 11, 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order to create the REA to bring power to rural areas. REA is hailed as having the greatest impact on rural America, credited with transforming a life of challenges into one of productivity and prosperity. Talk about changing how families farm! Readily available electricity changed many aspects of life on the family farm. Increased efficiencies brought on by the introduction of power to rural American empowered farmers then as modern technology empowers farmers today.
Most farm families – no matter how many acres are farmed or livestock raised – are certainly not going to intentionally pollute the environment. Most farmers drink the same water and breathe the same air as their neighbors. Being good stewards of the land, air, water, and livestock is not only the right behavior, but it is the best management practice.
We love what we do, but we are a for-profit business. That seems to be the sticking point – if you actually break even or make some money farming – the perception is that you are not a true family farm. If we have more than 10 cows or sows, our animal welfare practices are brought into question.
We are the families who go out in the middle of the night to check on a cow giving birth. We’re the families who have back-up generators to ensure our hog buildings stay warm during a late winter storm, but our own homes – well, we’ll just have to wear an extra pair of socks and light the kerosene heater.
We are the families who miss the music programs at the grade school because there is a sow that needs birthing assistance. We are the families who miss dance recitals, church picnics, family reunions, and postpone our children’s birthday parties because rain is on the way and the hay needs baled, or the conditions are right to plant corn or spray soybeans or harvest wheat.
Big or small, it shouldn’t matter, as long as you are doing it right on your farm every day.