There’s a statistic out there that gets thrown around a lot in the agriculture industry—the average person is 2.5 generations removed from the farm. Meaning the last farmer in an average person’s family was somewhere in between their grandparents and great-grandparents. This generational gap creates an “out” for everyone involved. Farmers can blame their frustrations on a lack of understanding from the public. Consumers can doubt and mistrust an industry that seems so far away.
But, once you put aside the politics, the pointed fingers, and the ever-increasing distance between the farm and the table – everyone is connected to the farm. And everyone should care about what happens to our nation’s farmers.
Farmers are facing an unprecedented number of obstacles that are continuing to drive them out of business. Natural weather disasters interrupt and derail crop cycles. Development pressures force land costs up. Commodity prices remain endlessly cyclical and unpredictable. And that is just the tip of the iceberg.
What’s the scariest part of all of this? We’re losing our farmers not just because they’re going out of business. We’re losing our farmers when their age keeps them from heading out to the barn every day, as the average age of a farmer steadily increases. We’re losing our farmers to accidents, because even though technology is making things safer, farmers are trying to do more with less while rushing to get everything done. We’re losing our farmers to suicide – by occupation farming has the highest rate of suicide.
Here’s the thing – if you strip away the title of “farmer”, underneath you’ll find moms and dads, sons and daughters, grandparents, cousins, and neighbors growing our food. People with passionate emotions, iron-clad determination, and endless bounds of knowledge about land, livestock, and plants. Farmers and their families pour their hearts and souls into the soil, into their work, and into their prayers to produce a product that we can all trust to feed our children.
Farmers feed your family, my family, our neighbors, everyone across the whole world. Vegan, Keto, Organic, Value – none of that matters in the end, because we live in a country where we have the freedom to make our own choices when it comes to feeding our families. Regardless of those choices, though, we still need food to live. Our kids need food to live. Everyone in the world needs food to live.
And food comes from farms.
And farms are painstakingly, endlessly, lovingly cared for by farmers.
And we all need farmers.
Farmers are going out of business and this is a problem we all need to care about.
If we don’t protect the people who grow our food, where will it come from? What will happen to the intergenerational knowledge of planting, growing and harvesting? What will happen to our precious rural landscape, wide open fields, and quiet spaces? What will happen to the safe and wholesome food we feed our children?
While our family is farming right now, yours might not be. 2.5 generations removed or not, we’re all connected to farms by our biological need to eat. Losing our farmers isn’t a “somebody else’s” problem – it’s real, and it’s something we all need to care about.
During this crisis, I have had the chance to reflect upon those farmers who have come before me. I think about my grandfather whose worn, calloused hands showed me how to carefully place a milking machine on a cow. I think about my grandmother whose loving and strong arms showed me how carry a newborn calf. I think about my father whose worn notebooks hold the daffodil sprout dates for the past 40 years which helped to set planting dates, harvest windows, and pasture rotations. I think about my husband who comes home from his day job to help me with our real job, which is producing food for our friends, our families, and complete strangers hundreds of miles away. I think about our children who are learning alongside us, who can tell when a cow is about freshen, who can carry buckets of feed through six inches of mud, and who wake up before sunrise to collect eggs before heading to day care.
As a mother raising my children on a farm, I used to be content with wishing that one of them would want to take over the farm someday. As things have continued, I changed my wish to simply hoping that there will still be a farm here, a farm across the road, a farm within walking distance – and that there will be a chance for our farmers all across the country to keep producing food, caring for our land, and handing down wisdom through the generations.
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