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Say it again, louder: Family farms grow our food

Posted Tuesday, November 6, 2012, at 4:21 PM

When I hear about the lack of family farms in America, I find myself very frustrated.

After all, I know it isn't true. Is it?

Then I mentally click through my memory. Farm families in Saline County, yes there are many. Farmers we met in college? Yes, I can think of many of those still farming in other areas of Missouri.

My sons, who attended ag schools in two different colleges, also met many farm boys from across Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, Maryland and Nebraska.

I correspond with farmers from across the nation on Facebook and Twitter. So I know, or think I know, there are farmers everywhere in the country.

But farmers are notorious for preferring anonymity. They don't like to draw attention to themselves.

So in that void, others have been telling the story of agriculture. And in most cases those others know very little about actually raising food for a living. Most have agendas of their own. So therefore the story of farming has become tainted by incorrect information.

I hear again and again about corporate farms, yet I only know of two in our area. One is a hog farm and the other a chicken farm. But in the case of the chicken farm, the buildings and the land are still owned by a family farmer. The chickens, though, are owned by a corporation and the farmer is paid on a per-grown-bird basis.

With the exception of small backyard flocks, it is the way chickens have been raised since the 1950s, or for more than 60 years. For many, raising poultry became a necessary path to stay on the family farm, especially through the tough 1980s.

Hogs have been raised on contracts since the 1990s. For farmers, it is old news, just another bump in the progression of farming.

I've wondered how the corporate farm story got started, when the truth is 98 percent of farms are still-family owned.

Then I read an article over confusion about signs along highways and interstates. You know the ones which say DeKalb, Pioneer, Channel etc. ...

For those of us in agriculture we know those signs are advertisements, placed in a private farmer's field (with permission) by a seed representative or salesman. They are there to let other farmers know what varieties are growing in each field.

While the numbers on the signs look -- even to me -- as some kind of secret code, I at least know they mean something to my farmers.

However, several recent polls and articles have indicated the majority of our population, far-removed from agriculture, think the signs indicate ownership. They think the signs mean Pioneer, DeKalb and Monsanto actually own those fields. Of course, that in turn promotes the idea of corporate agriculture.

Hopefully, though, that perception is starting to shift. Recently, several videos featuring family farmers have reached main stream media. The most successful was made by the Peterson Family of Saline County, Kan. Three young brothers sing "I'm Farming and I Grow It," parodying a popular rap song, all while doing routine farm chores.

Filmed in part by the boys' sister, it quickly grew to millions of views on YouTube. Soon the Peterson brothers were touring morning talk shows.

After the Department of Labor announced proposed changes, which would limit what chores farm kids could do on their own land, a backlash of citizens and legislators spoke out.

I feel certain those making the rules had no idea what limitations it would have put on farm families. Or that there were so many of us still here.

For those of us in production agriculture, both these incidents underlined what we already knew. Family farms and family farmers are still here, alive and well, in America. Many boys and girls are growing up in America's heartland hoping, praying and working toward a chance to become the next generation of American family farmers.

So like the Peterson brothers, and the thousands of people who wrote the Department of Labor, we need to keep telling our story.

Over and over again, if necessary.

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Does your PBS affiliate broadcast, "Heartland"? It's an interesting and educational half hour show on agriculture.

Along w/others, I enjoy your writing.

-- Posted by upsedaisy on Mon, Nov 12, 2012, at 8:14 PM

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