A few weeks ago was  the annual Farm Aid concert/fundraiser. For over 30 years, you have put together a group of celebrity vocal performers such as John Mellencamp, Neil Young, Dave Mathews, and Willie Nelson. Farm Aid was originally started in 1985 to bring awareness to the loss of family farms. While I appreciate their efforts, the whole Farm Aid is playing off in left field. You don’t understand what a family farm is and I would highly suggest you visit a family farm.
If you look at history, the early 1980’s is when the “farm crisis” occurred. The “farm crisis” was a time when there were high-interest rates (10-18%), a strong dollar, low commodity prices and a significant drop in land values. During the early 80s, we were just beginning to farm. Thankfully, we didn’t have much money borrowed at the time. I say that because many farm loans were called in because farm values decreased significantly. It was a crazy, scary time. Many farmers, including neighbors and friends, were filing for bankruptcy. In our area, farm values went from $4000 an acre to $1000 an acre—all within a short amount of time. Farm income was at an all-time low. It was terrible.
Farm Aid’s ultimate goal is to help keep family farmers on the land. And I commend you for that. But where you are wrong is your definition of a family farmer. On your website, you state, “We’ve worked side-by-side with farmers to protest factory farms and inform farmers and eaters about issues like genetically modified food and growth hormones.”
I am disturbed by your statement. Let’s take a closer look at what you are saying.
First, there is no such thing as a factory farm because 97% of farms are family-owned. These are family farmers–ones who go out every single day to care for their animals. They are cared for by people – not machines. And “inform farmers and eaters about issues like GMOs and growth hormones?” What the hell is that about? The vast majority of farms are family-owned, many of them use sustainable-friendly farming methods such as using GMO technology. Do you consider farmers who use biotechnology not family farmers? Seriously? That’s just plain crazy. And hormones? Again, I am appalled at you promoting fear in our food. It is illegal to give poultry and pork additional hormones. And the beef industry uses very little, if any, hormones in their cattle. In fact, there are considerably more natural hormones in foods like cabbage than what is used by the beef industry.
Again, “We know that to keep family farmers on the land we have to increase the number of people buying their good food.” Let me just add that there are many types of family farmers. A family farmer is NOT just someone who operates a CSA or grows food for a local market. A family farmer is also someone like myself where we raise pigs that are sold to Hormel, who then sells the meat to grocery stores and restaurants. We also grow corn and soybeans that are used for livestock feed, ethanol and many other uses. I am a family farmer! “Family farmers in the United States are under extreme economic pressure and thousands are pushed off their land every year. This crisis in farm country is threatening the very existence of the family farm in America. As family farms are forced out by large, factory farms, the quality of our food, our environment and our food security is in danger.”
I have a real problem with this statement. Family farms are not being forced out by large, factory farms. The reason smaller farmers are leaving is because there the profit margin is small. And the quality of our food, our environment, and our food security is not in danger. Farmers continually improve their farming techniques that result in improvements in our soils and environment. And . . . our food security is not in danger.
There is no doubt that farming is hard and at times, just plain not fun. And right now, many farmers are facing some tough times. Us included. But farming is cyclical. Always has been – always will be. To survive through the low times, it’s about reducing risk, making good and tough business decisions, tightening your belt and persevering.
Your website and mission are misleading. According to you, I am not a family farmer. But you are wrong. There are many family farmers like me. Family farmers do not look the same. We are CSAs, we are growers for local markets, we are grocery store farmers and we are renewable fuel farmers. Some of us use biotechnology and some do not.
But we still are all family farmers. I remember when the first Farm Aid concert was given. it made me feel good with the positive attention you were giving a very dire situation that was occurring during the farm crisis. And I thank you for that. But now, Farm Aid is about niche family farmers and not about all family farmers. I invite you to see and acknowledge all types of family farms.
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