Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Does Size Matter?

I got you with that title didn't I?

Ever since my trip to New York City with CommonGround, something has been bugging me. Does the size of my farming operation (or anyone else's farm) really matter? When asked by magazine editors we met with what type of farm my family operates,  I usually replied, "we are a 2,000 acre diversified family farm growing grains, hay, fruits, and vegetables." To which I generally got the response "Wow, that's BIG!" I guess I really had never given it much thought. It doesn't seem big to me. Its a family farm. Period. Does it matter what size it is?

Apparently, to some, it does. Big denotes bad in some circles. To us, its a business our family runs. The second generation, my husband's father and uncle, were wise investors in land in our area back in the 50's and 60's. Thus much of the land we farm is owned by members of the family. According to USDA, 98% of all farms in the US are family owned. USDA also defines "small" versus "large" farms based on sales of crops as opposed to land mass. Your a "farm" according to USDA if you earn $1000 or more from your land. That's not hard to do for a active gardener with a small roadside stand, or for goodness sake even a 4H'er who sells their 4H livestock at the end of the season. It has nothing to do with the number of acres farmed or number of animals raised.

Here we are...the board of directors for a "large" family farm. (note sarcasm)

Big also denotes "corporate" in the minds of others. Our family farm is "incorporated" which is simply a means of separating the business from personal assets for tax purposes. I guess that makes us one of those "corporate" farms. Most farms are structured as businesses these days, because that's what they are, businesses. While you may have some romantic notion about farming, let me reassure you, its a heck of a lot of hard work and sacrifice. I think the romance stems from what is perceived as a nice lifestyle. But in reality, the farm will not stay in the family unless it stays in business. A farm will only stay in business if it is profitable.

Farms come in all shapes and sizes. Size does not matter. Size does not define "good" or "bad". We value our land and the food we grow on that land. Whether we had 10 acres or 10,000 acres, we're doing all we can to ensure that the food we eat is safe and nutritious... because the food on our plates at home, is also your food, the food you buy at the store.


  1. The decline of rural communities as farms get larger suggests that by some measurements, size does matter. Your farm may well fit the definition of the "agriculture of the middle" that once was the backbone of rural America and is now fading away.

    1. Thanks Heidi, I think much of size has to do with on vs off farm income. We are fortunate enough that our farm supports my husband, myself, and my brother in law. We have 1 other full time employee. It also has to do with markets, infrastructure, and access. We can only grow what we have a market for and where there is infrastructure and access to the market. Lastly, my belief is the decline of rural communities has to do with the opportunities that our children have to work less and earn more money and have benefits, something thats not true on a farm. My mantra on sustainability is that no family farm is sustainable if there is no one in the next generation who wants to farm it.