When I was about seven years old, my cousin and I wrote our names in the dirt one summer day while watching my grandad bale hay. Later that day when we asked if he had seen our masterpieces he smiled and said, “I did. I saw that you’re part of the land now.”
I didn’t think too deeply into the symbolism of writing my name in the dirt at seven years old. However, as I have grown older I have come to see what my grandad meant. Farmers are stewards of the land who embody a core principle of sustainability by feeding the world while nourishing their land and its resources upon which they completely depend.
Today many people believe that the times of family farmers have passed. The idealistic picture of farmers caring for their land so lovingly that they feel they are a part of it has been replaced by the distortion known as industrialized agriculture, or “factory farms.” As someone who grew up on a family farm where our cattle roam green hills torture free, I’m here to say that family farmers are not ancient history. We are still here and we care now more than ever about creating a sustainable future for our world’s food supply.
There may no longer be as many farmers in the U.S. as there once were, but the majority of farms here are still 97 percent family –owned according to the USDA. Our world has changed with new technologies and government policies that have encouraged increased production levels allowing for fewer farmers to produce more food. These are not factory farms. These farms are managed by down-home farmers who have mastered modern science and technology to produce enough food to sustain the growing population expected to reach 9.5 billion by 2050.
Modern farmers strive to meet growing food demands by diversifying their farming operations, which allows them to work in harmony with nature. Today’s farms are larger than they used to be for this reason. The more enterprises a farmer can produce the greater the opportunity he or she has to increase profit. By using the output of one farming enterprise to benefit the production of another enterprise harmony is achieved. This is seen in practices such as closed-loop nutrient cycling, using livestock manure for fertilizer on crops in a balanced way that is beneficial to environmental health.
Farming families have worked the land they cultivate for generations, so the idea of intentionally applying practices that would likely harm what they have worked so hard to preserve for future generations is unthinkable. Runoff of pesticide and fertilizer chemicals into creeks and other water sources would contaminate water for animals on the farmer’s farm, and potentially damage drinking wells and the local watershed shared by neighboring farmers. Farmers that share a watershed must work in cooperation by communicating their management practices to each other in order to sustain a clean watershed that will benefit everyone.
Farmers must also work in cooperation with their industry. This does not mean we’re out for only profits and will do whatever it takes to make the most money possible, even if it means damaging public health. The poultry industry of America does not inject chickens with hormones, as many now believe is common practice. True farmers care about their animals and know that the more nature guides science the better the results will be. Farmers are passionate about finding new ways science can work with nature to produce better yields. For example, farmers are able to produce larger chickens by implementing selective breeding. Hormone use to grow larger birds is illegal in the U.S. so when you pay more for hormone free chicken at your local grocery store you’re paying for a marketing strategy, not healthier chicken.
There may be fewer farmers in the world today, but rest assured that family farms are still here and we’re still working for you to bring you the best quality food possible while working in harmony with nature as the future of sustainable agriculture.
Post contributed by Rebecca Oliver, Office of Sustainability Intern