When Small Farms Fail

Herd About It?

By Ana Grarian

What happens when small farms fail? A typical small farm in my community in the 1970’s and 80’s provided employment for several people. There would be of course the farmer(s), often a full time hired hand, and several seasonal employees, usually teens. First the farm wives went off to find work to supplement the family income. In our area that usually meant a trip of 10-20 miles each way to get a job in one of the larger towns. Once the farm closed down the men were driven to town for jobs too. The larger farms just didn’t need them, or wouldn’t pay a living wage. (Farm jobs have lower minimum wages, like waitressing, only livestock don’t leave tips) For a while the high schoolers still worked on the farms, but there wasn’t enough work for all of them either, and the shifts got too long to be part time work..

Now we have Mom, Dad and the kids next door driving 30 miles a day to work. The community is kind of empty. Mom stops at the big box in the city to buy groceries, or picks up dinner at the drive through. Gas might be a few cents cheaper a gallon too, so we’ll fill up there. The money we’re spending is going into some other towns (county’s, state’s) coffers, and we’re burning up our roads to do it.

Bigger farmers are searching for better markets and prices. The small feed store or gas station down the road can’t compete with the corporation who can now deliver feed/fuel/fertilizer by the tractor trailer load to a single farm. This means prices go up for everyone else. The local grocery goes under as does the local feed mill. Now we have no hardware store either because that was another function of the feed mill. Great big tractors and combines are bought from big dealers further away and our small machinery dealers go out too. Now if we want a lawn mower or some screws we drive to a big box on the outskirts of the big town nearest us. Those big boxes start to eat the heart out of the bigger town draining the core of business and setting up those lovely ubiquitous mega highway mega strip malls that are the same all over the US.

Everybody is driving. Even the big farmers. Fields that once were serviced with little tractors that moved about the small farm and didn’t have much time on the road are now being serviced by behemoths that travel miles every day to plant, harvest, spread manure, fertilize etc. They are driven by workers who are under pressure to get too much done in too short a time and they are traveling FAST up and down our rural roads.

Farming used to be done by people with a calling to the land. Men and women who loved animals and nature. Smart people who cared about what the effects of their land and animal husbandry practices were. People of a community who interacted with each other, helped each other, kept each other informed and to some extent in line. The huge agri-businesses are being run by people with an eye for the bottom line. People who have too much financial power over their communities to be kept in line, or to even tolerate their neighbors speaking out about what is happening to their communities.

Some things are worth paying a little more for. Good healthy food, clean air and water, a vibrant community. I think these are all worth a little more than a drive through dollar menu.