Family farm agriculture plays a critical role in strengthening rural communities and shaping the character of rural life. Quite simply, who farms matters.
Research has found that communities surrounded by farms that are larger than can be operated by a family unit have a few wealthy elites, a majority of poor laborers, and virtually no middle class. The absence of a middle class has a serious negative effect on social and commercial service, public education, and local government.
We don’t have the option of returning to the family farm communities of a generation ago. But we can build strong 21st century rural communities based on their key strength. Family farming afforded people who work – the common person – the opportunity to shoulder the responsibilities of ownership and enjoy its benefits. That strengthened their stake in their community and nurtured their sense of responsibility.
Today, there are new opportunities in farming, ranching and related businesses. Small dairies are remaking themselves with specialty cheeses and organic milk. In the Midwest, hundreds of small farms are flourishing by supplying the gourmet food supplier Niman Ranch with low-stress hogs raised on straw or pasture. On the Great Plains, family growers are cultivating specialty grains for expanding niche markets.
We’re still fighting for family farms that raise commodities, as you can see in our advocacy for tighter limits on mega farm subsidies. But we are also working to create the new 21st century opportunities for rural Americans to own the fruits of their labor.