Each year I spend Christmas Eve on the family farm where my grand-children are fifth generation family farmers, and they take an active part in the farm work. They are among less that one-half of one per cent of children growing up in the United States today. As I think about their futures, I wonder if when they sit down in years to come to share family stories on Christmas Eve, will they be describing the rebirth of family farming here in the United States, the growth in support for organic sustainable farming, the increasing role of family farms globally in eradicating hunger and poverty? Will there be more children in the United States growing up on a family farm? Will my grandchildren still be family farmers?
I grew up in the 1950s and early 1960s in rural Minnesota. The vast majority of my relatives on both my maternal and paternal sides of the family were dairy farmers whose cattle provided the beef, milk and cream (we made our own butter and cottage cheese). All the farms I knew also had enough chickens to provide eggs for meals and baking, and an occasional Sunday fried chicken dinner as well as pigs to provide the pork roast, pork chops, sausage, ham and bacon which were smoked in the old smoke house at my grandparents farm, the Evarts Farm. The lard was rendered on pig butchering day for all our baking and frying needs.
There was no such thing as “a garden.” We had the spring, early summer, summer, fall, and late fall gardens which provided all the fruits and vegetables we needed to can, make jam or jelly or sauce or put in the root cellar for our winter meals. We went to the store in town for spices, sugar, salt, flour and yeast. Everything else came from the farm! The farm truly sustained all of us.
“According to the Census of Agriculture,” a United States Department of Agriculture report revealed, “the number of U.S. farms fell sharply until the early 1970s after peaking at 6.8 million in 1935…By 2002, about 2.1 million farms remained.”
In 2013 people living on family farms comprise less than one per-cent of the population in the United States. My granddaughter, who is now a first year college student, and her classmates were asked by their fifth grade teacher to write a paper describing whether it was better to grow up in town or in the country. She wrote her paper saying neither, that it was better to grow up on the farm! Early in the New Millennium we had already begun to lose the language of farm, to say nothing of the family farm.
November 22, 2013, the United Nations announced the International Year of Family Farming (2014). The news release states clearly that “these farms produce the food that feeds billions of people, adding that in many developing countries, family farms represent up to 80 per cent of all farm holdings.”
May we join with the United Nations in 2014 in celebrating and supporting existing family farms and work for the rebirth of family farming globally in eradicating poverty and hunger.
Posted by: Ginger K. Hedstrom, Justice Associate