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The Dying Family Farmer

Two Farmall International tractors sit by the road.  One has a fresher paint job than the other.  Both have “For Sale” signs on the front of them.

Governor Rendell recently proposed $80 million to go towards farmland preservation.  Many farms wait to be added to the money-short programs.

“It’s Not Farmland Without Farmers” was stickered on the lower left side of a pick-up truck bumper.


The past two Saturday mornings I helped load hay and straw from the barn on to the flatbed truck parked in the dung yard.  Last year’s crop emptied the barn out;  this year’s crop will fill it back up.

The early morning air and light cast an innocence over the days.  Men worked together and laughed while doing so.  The barn smelled liked old barns do.

We had sufficient hands there to do the job, making each individual effort little in comparison to baling in the summer. 


I am the son of a family farmer.  If I were to farm the land, I would be the fourth generation to do so. 
The likelihood of that happening is quite small. 

My uncle used to wear a baseball cap that said “Farming Doesn’t Pay,” or something to that effect.  Perhaps it would be more apt to say “Family Farming Doesn’t Pay.”

Because such a statement is true, I have no option to even consider the remote idea of being a family farmer.  Aside from that, I do not have the intellect, the patience, the will, the stubborness, the faith, the work ethic to be a farmer. 

Still, it does not sit well with me that across this state, and this country for that matter, people like myself cannot afford the notion of being a family farmer.

Of course, we can be a farmer if we do it while also working another full-time job, or if we find a niche market, e.g. organics, or a local buyer who supports small-scale, family-run agriculture.  The strain on the immediate family of the former positive possibility is why I would never do so.  The economic odds of the latter are too great for most others to seek that route.


So what happens when a family recognizes that the family farm is not going to be passed down to the next generation? 

Some sell it off and get decent money to put in the bank, allowing them to live a more comfortable life.  Who can blame them?  I would love nothing more than seeing my folks enjoy themselves with vacations, the opportunity to see places they’ve only heard about, to meet up with friends for breakfast, lunch, and dinner if they choose.  They’ve both toiled as family farmers.  They’ve both made sacrifices.  Let it be their time to reap the benefits.

If you don’t sell, you probably seek out a way to protect the land.  You want to know that the open space, the fields, the lifestyle will not die when you die.  You hope the farm goes into a preservation program.  You go through all the paperwork.  Maybe your farm is considered worthy of preservation.  Maybe it’s not.  Maybe there’s money to give you for selling the development rights to the preservation program.  Maybe there’s not. 


Why do most Americans have no idea that an entire way of life, a culture, an important figure in the shaping of this country is dying, and will be dead in the coming decade or so?  If they did know, would they care? 

Will the preserved farmland be farmed with the love and care it is farmed with now?  Or, will the preservation program consider agribusiness operations, e.g. mass poultry and swine production, cash crops, to be “farming,” consequently not using the farmland the way a family farmer would have used it?  Does this matter? 

Who will farm the land?  Does it matter?


If any of these issues resonate with you, call, email, write to your political officials and tell them what you’re thinking.  It is important in sustaining a healthy democracy that we exercise our voices.

(written 11 April 2004)

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