I awoke to the soft sound of a gentle rain falling against the windowsill. It was my first day back home on our family farm after another semester at Kansas State University. I eventually looked over at the clock, and after blinking twice noticed it was already 8:30 in the morning. I nearly leapt out of bed to get dressed to help feed the animals before church. But before I did, I noticed something. Other than the soft rain, the farm was quiet.
As my brain resumed functioning, I remembered the decision our family had made to sell our livestock before winter hit. Outside, only a single barn cat roamed the corrals once home to 80 meat goats and about a dozen cattle.
This decision didn’t just come about overnight, but had been considered for a number of years. The primary driver of selling our livestock was our small family farm did not produce enough to be profitable with the amount of labor it required. As my older brother and I moved off to school, the brunt of the farm labor fell upon my mother, who put in hours a day taking care of the livestock. During high demand times like kidding and calving seasons, the required work hours increased drastically. In comparison with the earnings my mother could make working an hourly, entry-level position, running the family farm became unprofitable.
I know this story isn’t just specific to us, but has been shared by thousands of small family farmers throughout the US in the past century. Ever since the industrialization era, men and women have left the farm to find jobs and different lives in our quickly expanding cities. Just as it was in the early 1900s, farming and ranching both produce commodities subject to the large variations of market prices. A bad year in the market with low prices can do great damage to an agricultural producer, and if they do not have enough resources to last through hard times, they may have to sell out or face defaulting on loans.
Because of these factors, relying solely on a system of small family farms to provide our entire nation’s food supply is unrealistic. I am a full supporter of family farms, as they have provided me with great experiences that I will never forget and hope to provide for my own children someday. As well, it is hard to beat fresh sweet corn picked from our own garden or a local farmers market. But the belief that our entire food supply can be produced entirely by small, local farmers is unrealistic economically, unless America is willing to pay substantially more for their food. Because larger farming operations are also great stewards of the land, I am a full supporter of them. Larger farms have the resources necessary to survive market fluctuations and produce safe, plentiful, and inexpensive products raised as efficiently as possible. There is room for all types of agricultural production systems in America, but we need to get over some of the economic fantasies presented in the media.
This Christmas, I did not have to run outside after a big Christmas dinner to feed our livestock in the cold. I was missing the animals a little bit, but know that there are others that made the sacrifices to provide all the fixings for our Holiday celebration.