The Future of Farming in America – Part 3

Part three of a three part series

As promised, as much as an italicized subtitle can promise such things, I am getting back to the last installment of our reasons behind moving our family to the farm in Braham. A million-word blog post – or three – could never fully explain all the reasons we made this leap, but I can certainly try. In part one, I talked about how we focused on the kids and chose the future; part two concentrated on farm life, especially the work ethic that comes along with living out here. Outside of our immediate family of five though, there are larger, community-based inspirations for our move to the farm.

If you want to make a small-town Minnesotan laugh, all you have to do is proclaim that you have moved to the country “to be a farmer.” This is always our opening answer when asked, “What brought you to Braham?” and it never fails to get some sort of (always Minnesota-nice) reaction. Our new neighbors’ responses have ranged from surprise to shock, giggles to guffaws. In this part of the country, and for the majority of people, “farming” is a synonym for running a large-operation row crop farm. Corn or soybeans, Monsanto seeds, and feedlot beef are at the heart of our neighbors’ immediate assumptions. Because of this, it is no surprise that these lifelong rural Minnesotans are shocked and even mildly concerned for us. What most of the country doesn’t know (or chooses to conveniently ignore) is that nobody – nobody – in their right mind would, or even could, get into conventional farming and hope to scratch out a prosperous, stress-free life for their family.

Iowa corn.

Because of the current farming and food system, the farms in America’s Midwest are working under an ideology that values producing things “faster, fatter, bigger, cheaper.” Farms are forced to get bigger or get out, and more often than not, families are getting out. “Conventional” farms’ crop prices are subject to the whims of the commodity market, pigeonholing farmers as price takers, rather than price setters. Even if a family farm grows the best, most innovative, highest quality batch of #2 yellow corn seen yet, their bushels get pooled into the nations’ proverbial silo, and they get the same price as all the other farmers. On the subject of low prices, according to the National Farmers Union, “farmers receive only 15.8 cents of every food dollar that consumers spend on food” (emphasis mine). This, coupled with often too-low commodity prices, makes margins so slim for America’s commodity farmers that more acres, more infrastructure, and more bank notes are often the only way to keep the barn doors open.

Living on such small margins, while at the mercy of the commodity market and local weather patterns – equally unpredictable at times – has done little to inspire our generation to continue their family farming traditions, much less entice new families to join the ranks of food producers. This confluence of circumstances has led to a rural America that is aging. According to the 2014 U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Census of Agriculture, “during the last 30 years, the average age of U.S. farmers has grown by nearly eight years, from 50.5 years to 58.3 years.” We are due for another Agriculture census – they are conducted every five years – and I predict this number heads north yet again. Farmers have not only never been older, but there have never been so few people ready to step in and send them into retirement. Older farmers can’t get out of the business because too many roadblocks are standing in the way of young ones getting in. 

Future Farmers

As a result of these demographics, when most people think about living and working in rural America, words like “active” and “vibrant” don’t often come to mind. Chris and I talked at length in the years preceding our move about how rural communities are dying; if young people don’t find their way back to the farms, America will be a very different one than in generations past. After four months as a rural dweller, I can now assure you that there are bright, enthusiastic communities in outstate Minnesota. We might not have many restaurant options for dinner, but we get spectacular sunsets every evening; it is a bit of a drive to the nearest Costco, but the garden space is practically unlimited. Rural living has many, many perks, and we hope to share those with our city-dwelling friends near and far.

Every night.

Once we explain to new friends that we are not, in fact, going to be “farming” in the traditional sense, but will be actively managing and raising our grass-fed beef, pork, and chicken, they have shown nothing but excitement, enthusiasm, and support for our family farm. As new members to this community, we have felt welcomed and embraced at every turn. Speaking of vibrant, active communities: our town of Braham, Minnesota boasts just over 1,700 residents, and yet every community event – waffle breakfast to chili feed – is packed. We believe we definitely lucked into starting our farm in such an active rural area, and we know that Braham might in fact, be the exception that proves the rule. All I can share with you is this: some might drive right by our “sleepy” little town and see nothing but gray hair and old farm trucks, but if people take the time to stop in and get to know the community, it is clear that there is so much more to rural America  than most people assume. We hope that our farm adds to what this rural community has to offer. To become a resource for our community – whether for healthy food, farming advice, or volunteerism – is a long-term goal for us here at Yellow Hutch Farm.

As always, thank you so much for being here with us. It means so much to share our little slice of farm life with you all. ~Lauren

 

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