When I first look at online definitions of what characterizes a family farm, I am a little exasperated. Wikipedia provides theirs and the United States Legal Definition, both seen below.
A family farm is a farm owned and operated by a family, and often passed down from generation to generation. It is the basic unit of the mostly agricultural economy of much of human history and continues to be so in developing nations. Alternatives to family farms include those run by agribusiness, colloquially known as factory farms, or by collective farming.
As defined by USDA regulations related to farm loan programs (e.g. those administered by the Farm Service Agency), a family farm is a farm that
- Produces agricultural commodities for sale in such quantities so as to be recognized in the community as a farm and not a rural residence;
- Produces enough income (including off-farm employment) to pay family and farm operating expenses, pay debts, and maintain the property;
- Is managed by the operator;
- Has a substantial amount of labor provided by the operator and the operator’s family; and
- May use seasonal labor during peak periods and a reasonable amount of full-time hired labor.
(For exact language, see 7 U.S.C. 1941.4, 1943.4). (Wikipedia, 2011)
Interestingly enough, Wikipedia covers the perceptions of the family farm and offers some thought-provoking and accurate insight that I have touched on before in my college courses and independently. I think it is safe to say that, in general, we perceive a “family farm” as one based on the idyllic, often distorted 1950s America—with the “Leave it to Beaver” and “I Love Lucy” façade. Well, as much as that is NOT the typical family structure today, family farms have seen a drastic image change, too. (Technological advancement impacting both) In many ways, Agriculture is just as mysterious as today’s American family. The progression of time, events, social norms, deteriorating morale behavior (seen everywhere mind you) and economic influences have changed the family farm from what it was in its “hay day.” The hay day of Guernsey cows, booming county fairs, affluent “cooperatives” and such is past us, but remnants of that can still be found (and in terms of counting up total remaining farm operations, a substantial percentage), and is still used to market products to consumers. But that doesn’t mean there is any less ‘family’ in farming today—the structure and face has just changed—progressed with the demands of livelihood (business) survival.
Yet, the evidence is overwhelming, even here in New York State—there are areas, even certain familiar stretches of highway that used to be littered with small farming operations and dairy cows. Today they are lonely, desolate stretches of road with vanishing barns and fields growing up in thicket. Like a family photo album you dust off from being in the attack, you can pass by these vacant farms and see the past, the memories, the “hay days”—a lost nostalgia. And as sad as it is for agriculture, we can see this all across the country, any country for that matter. The front street shops of small towns, the small white country churches, and happily, once-married couples with 2 children, can still be found, but like the idyllic family farm—become rarer with each passing year. We cannot hold onto to the “good old days” forever, and if you think for a minute, each generation’s idea of the latter is different, right?
Fortunately, the publicity given to the ‘demise of the family farm’ has made us cognoscente of our changing rural landscape, just as our high divorce rates and other social issues have pointed out our deteriorating moral fabric.
Wikipedia. (2011, March 11). Family farm. Retrieved April 16 , 2011, from Wikipedia : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Family_farm#United_States_legal_definition