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The Improbable Return of the Family Farm
4 years ago


In a time of free market consolidation.

A subtle shift in demographics is taking place in America. Too subtle for the mainstream media and politicians to notice.


Americans are getting back to the land. They are selling their townhouses and suburban McMansions and returning to the farm.

These prodigals are hobby farmers: retired financial planners, accountants, and CEOs who made a small fortune and then, when it came time to retire, wanted nothing more than to leave the drab, impersonal suburbs behind and relocate to 100 acres of peaceful river valley.


Many of these so-called “countrysiders” are second or third generation city folk, whose fathers or grandfathers moved to the metropolis hoping to strike it rich quick as a stockbroker, a lawyer, or some other desk professional, but whose blood stirs still with an ancient longing to get back to the land and work with one’s hands, and who, in their waning years, seek the affections of country life, of church and community.

Some are aging hippies or simple-living ascetics, witnesses to the havoc materialism and industrialism have wreaked to family, to values, and to morals, who long for a simpler, more natural way of life. The fortunate ones have property to return too. Property that remained in the family long after their ancestors moved to the cities, to college, or marched off to war and never came back.

The movement — if one can call it that — is known as the New Agrariansim. Its philosophy, to quote Wendell Berry, is “to keep, to save, to make last, to conserve.” It strives to reinvigorate the household as “a center of economic productivity.” Most of all it shuns governmental assistance.

It differs greatly from environmentalism which regards human beings as the problem, as a cancer on the planet, writes Allan Carlson, a professor of history at Hillsdale College. In contrast, agrarians are “buoyant humanists, welcoming children and the close settlement of human beings on the land.”

THAT’S THE HOPE. Then there is the reality. The farmland the New Agrarians are returning to is not the land their grandparents forsook.

Rural poverty rates now hover around 16 percent. In 1941, the average farm was 160 acres in size. Today 1,700 acres is commonplace. The average farmer approaches 65 years of age. He “sits in an office before his computer, hunting for new tax loopholes and hedging on the Chicago Board of Trade,” notes Carlson.

And for good reason. Land prices have soared, as have the costs of machinery pesticides, and transportation, pricing many wanna-be young farmers out of the market.

The back-to-the-landers find a dwindling number of small farmers unable to compete with uber-efficient Consolidated Ag. They find a countryside where meth is king, and small farms are only a nostalgic memory. The mantra of today’s farmer is grow or perish.

4 years ago

But they are adapting. If high-yield unsustainable industrial agriculture with its indifference to family, community, and traditions holds a monopoly, then the New Agrarians have found another niche. They have created a growing market for healthy organics, and humanely treated free-range chickens and grass-fed beef. They have worked to increase the number of farmers markets, the burgeoning community-supported agriculture movement (association of individuals pledged to support one or more local farms, with growers and consumers sharing the risks and benefits of food production) and farm-to-family distributors, processors, and wholesalers of local, fresh foods.


If affordable farmland is at a premium (they ain’t making any more of it), there is at least no shortage of ideas. Carlson suggests taxpayers take the annual $20 billion crop subsidies given to agribusiness and fund more than one million new family farms. “Under my fantasy, we taxpayers would at least get what we thought we were paying for all along: a well-settled countryside of happy families and rosy-cheeked children.”


But if recent history is any guide, Big Ag may soon take itself out of the picture. With the rising price of land it is only a matter of time before corporate farms move overseas where land and labor is cheaper. Perhaps then the back-to-the-land movement will really take off.


The question is can the family farm hold on that long?

4 years ago

Diane, we have to realize that it is the family farmers that produce a large part of our exports and it is our exports, not our income taxes, that produce the majority of the US government's economy.  We are dependent upon this money.  However, it is the Democrats with their socialistic agenda that are trying to destroy the family farmers.  Systematically, through their legislation, proposed and passed, especially under Obama, but also under Clinton, that have robbed these people of the financial ability to continue and it is all about taking this away from them in order to establish the "government farms".  Remember what Lenin and Stalin did in Russia wen communism rose to major proprotions.  Government farms that produced and then the very same people that used to own those lands and work those lands became the government workers on those farms so they could share the wealth among all Russians.

As much as I understand the need and desire for city people to move back to the rural areas, subdividing these major family farms to allow this is not wise.  It is playing right into the hands of the Marxist-socialists of the Democratic Party.  It means one step closer to a socialist form of government as the big family corporate ranchers and farmers are what help keep us an economically sound and free society.  There is a good reason that this large group of our society are Republican, and all one has to do is sit down with these people and listen to them, they see exactly what is transpiring and just how dangerous Obama is to them.  To destroy them is to weaken the Republican Party even further.  And what is next on Obama's agenda, the Farm Bill.  Time to research this further.

Diane, I do see the desire and the need for many to return to the rural America, my special man has done just that.  He left a very lucrative counsulting engineery business, semi-retired and moved back to rural America, buying a 75 acre farm from a family that had owned that farm for 5 generations and well over 150 years.  He will die before he allows that land to be further divided.  He just purchased a working dairy farm as the family has no one left to own and run it and the man hated to see it subdivided by some land group and the farm no longer in existence.  It was purchased for an extremely reasonable amount of money as this man would rather sell it to my fella who will maintain it in it's integrity and continue to us it for farming rather than to sell it for what he could have got from it and see it lost forever.

So at 70 he is now a farmer, moving away from dairy to producing hay for the dairy farmers of the area and creating self-sufficiency for himself.  Further, he will be creating jobs as he will be retaining a young man and his wife who currently work on the dairy farm, and hiring at least one other man to work the farm for him.  

My cousins are hanging in there to maintain their 8,500 acrea (total) wheat ranching family farm in Central Washington State.  They formed a family corporation which provides a living for the whole family, 5 members of which actively farm it, the rest including my Uncle now retired receive revenue from the ranch as well.  The wheat they produce is exported and the federal government has depended upon this and the wheat produced by their neighbors to export to other countries and create that export fee for our federal economy.  

People don't realize just how much exports mean to this Country and how dependent we are upon them to finance the bulk of the government.  Agriculture is a huge part of that and never should be mistaken.  Not something that we hear much about, but we should.

Back to your article, Diane, I am not surprised to see this happening.  Can anyone imagine what this is going to do to the cities?  We are talking about Baby Boomers moving out of them and will there be as many younger people to fill the loss?  It has a lot of ramifications. 


4 years ago

I knew you would get to the heart of this   : )

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