Is the Family Farm a Myth?

“Perhaps the traditional family farm is an ideal or a myth that never really existed. If so, it is no more so that the ideal of our American democracy. Regardless, these are ideals we must continue to strive to achieve.” John Ikerd – Professor Emeritus of Agricultural Economics from the University of Missouri.

During recent days, an awareness of the fragility of the small family farm has grown. Even prior to the pandemic, Wisconsin led the nation once again in farm bankruptcies. The refrain that dairy farmers are “in trouble” has been echoed for so long now, many have tuned out. 

My family’s farm story began over twenty years ago. With four small daughters, we were living in Newport Beach overlooking the Pacific Ocean in a furnished apartment, a benefit supplied by my husband’s corporate employer.

One day, we read aloud from a library book, “All the Places to Love” by Patricia MacLachlan. I still remember the words; “My grandfather once lived by the city, and he once lived by the sea, but the barn is the place he loved most. Where else can the soft sound of cows chewing make all the difference in the world?” As the book ended, our oldest daughter asked, “Daddy, can we have a farm?”

Within a few months, an agreement was made to purchase a hundred-acre farmstead on the verge of foreclosure with its abandoned dairy barn and facilities back home in Wisconsin. My husband was adamant, if he was going to milk cows, he was not going to milk cows for a corporation. He had enough of the elusive sales quotas and gimmicks that kept a person on edge. We became member owners of a farmer cooperative and our lives changed forever.

Our family’s attention was captured by the plight of farmers throughout time, the cooperation between co-op members, fairness of marketplaces, and a plethora of health and environmental issues.

I hope these issues are now capturing the attention of us all.  Paradoxically, while vulnerable, the resourcefulness and resilience of local farms and businesses has revealed their strength because of connection to customers and neighbors. Through cooperative efforts, individual buying power, civic engagement, and collective voice for local businesses and rural life, we can imagine and insist on a rural and democratic renaissance.

This article originally appeared in the June/July 2020 issue of our newsletter, The Morsel. Learn more about our board of directors here.

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