A recent trip back to Wisconsin reminded me how much farmland and pasture-roaming cows affect my psyche. I grew up on a dairy farm, so these sights simply feel like home, and they bring a certain calm to me. I want to breathe as deep as possible and go for a walk across the ridge of our small family farm. But then again, anyone’s small family farm will do.
When you drive past a small family farm, you’ll see people of all ages hauling buckets of feed and trudging around in their farm boots. You’ll spot kids who the city folk will think are too young to be driving the skid steer or climbing to the top of the silo to open the hatch before the first chopper box of silage arrives from the field.
But according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the number of small family farms in Wisconsin has been steadily decreasing (11 percent in the past 5 years alone), while the larger farms are taking over. For a variety of reasons, the small family farm seems to be an endangered species. I think we should ask ourselves what our world would look like without them.
The first thing that comes to my mind are all the lessons that would be lost, especially for our young people. Operating a family farm requires serious effort from everyone. It instills a strong work ethic, and you learn to enjoy getting your hands dirty by pitching in with whatever needs to be done.
Now that I’m away from the farm, I admit it’s hard to teach these same lessons to our three boys as they grow older. They don’t know what it means to get up before school for morning chores, to grab a quick snack after school before heading out for evening chores, and to only fit homework in after sitting down to eat dinner with the family.
The broader impact of losing family farms is a compromised food system. Think of how many frozen fruits and vegetables had to be recalled this month alone due to a recent listeria outbreak. Or think of the ever-increasing importance of knowing where your food comes from. These are all excellent reasons you should get to know the small family farmers in your area and learn about their philosophies and practices. LocalHarvest is a wonderful resource in this regard. They maintain a reliable nationwide directory of small farms, CSAs, and farmers’ markets. You’ll find local sources of sustainably grown food, information on individual farming practices, reviews from the public, and contact info. Call them up, and they’ll gladly fill you in on the details of their chosen profession.
Speaking of their chosen profession, it’s been my experience that people who dedicate themselves to family farms have a real connection with the earth. They know what the soil needs and understand the importance of concepts such as crop rotation. It’s in their blood to raise and nurture the plants and animals that roam their land. Yet another tragedy of a world without small family farms is this sector becoming displaced workers. Rather than doing what they were put on this earth to do, these small family farmers would need to look for a job just to have a paycheck.
June is Dairy Month, the perfect time to up your efforts in saving family farms from extinction. You can start simply by rethinking some of your grocery shopping habits.
- Take a weekly trip to your local farmers’ market to buy super fresh produce.
- Invest in an upright freezer and place an order for a quarter of beef from that farm just a few miles away.
- Ask around for tips on where to get farm fresh eggs in your area. (If you’ve never seen the yolk of an egg that came from a free-roaming chicken, you’ll be shocked by its beauty—and its deliciousness.)
What are you doing to make sure we never experience a world without small family farms?