Our Connection to the Earth
Editorial from the Mar/Apr 2005 issue of Small Farm Today® magazine.
It is springtime; the seed catalogs are rolling in and farmers’ thoughts turn to planting.
The simple act of placing a seed in the soil and watching as it emerges and grows into a sturdy plant is a source of wonder and fulfillment. The farmer planting 1,000 acres and the farmer planting one row in his garden experience the same wonderment and miracle of life as the earth renews itself each spring.
Planting renews our connection with the earth. Of the roughly 2 million farmers left in the U.S., there are 1.3 million small farmers—the largest group. These small farmers are described by the USDA Census as part-time, lifestyle, and residential farmers.
Part-time farmers are an important part of today’s agriculture, because they are the “seeds” from which full-time farmers sprout, as their hobby turns into a thriving business.
Lifestyle farmers frequently help with genetic preservation of rare and minor breeds, so these animal and heirloom plant genes will be available to furnish new stock for farmers. These farmers’ purpose is more than making money; it is preservation for the future, and it keeps them connected to the earth.
Residential farmers want to live in the peace and security of the country life. They want their children to collect eggs, care for the animals, and plant a garden. They value the experience of country life more than money because it gives them a peaceful connection with the earth.
I was recently interviewed by an Italian reporter. Mr. Manocchia mentioned that Bob Stallman, President of the American Farm Bureau Federation, in an interview for the Italian magazine L’Informatore Agrario, said that the small farms in the U.S. are destined to die, crushed—in a sense—by modern techniques, and that big farms, big concerns will take over. I replied that the small farm may change in form but will not die, because it is almost an instinctive emotional reaction for people in America—and other countries—to obtain some land and produce at least some of their food—if not their livelihood—from their land. The lure of independence and peace and quiet of the farm seems more rewarding than the hustle and bustle of city life and working for someone else. Dreams do not die.
If Mr. Stallman was referring to small conventional agriculture—corn-wheat-beans (commodity crops) that market by volume in contracts—he is right; most of those small farms will die, because of the economics of the commodity markets, which are in the hands of multinational corporations.
Small family farms which are willing to change in form—grow something different than commodity crops and develop marketing plans which enable them to sell farm products at retail prices by direct and local marketing—will not only survive, but prosper, as evidenced by the organic market, which has grown from virtually 0 to $20 billion in annual sales. Farmers’ markets are increasing in number across the country; in California, they are a $100 million business. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is also increasing across the country.
Small farms are increasing in number—there are more small farms now than 10 years ago—and are changing in form; they are taking advantage of America’s new interest in freshness, quality, and safety in how their food is grown. Today, America is more aware of local production and what it does, not only for the farmer and customer, but for the local community.
Because there are so many types of farms and reasons to farm, there is room for everyone—large and small—if we work at it. Variety is what makes this country great. The urge to connect to the earth is in us all, and that is why the small farm will never die.
I wish you happy planting as you become connected to the earth this spring.
Happy & Profitable Farming,