Preface. As declining fossil fuels force more and more people back into being farmers, eventually 75 to 90% of the population, it would be much better for this to happen with family farms than gigantic mega-farms with workers who are slaves in all but name. This essay offers an alternative, collaborative worker-owned farming that has already been proven to work..
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Taber, S. 2019. America loves the idea of family farms. That’s unfortunate. nymag.com
Family farms are central to our nation’s identity. Most Americans, even those who have never been on a farm, have strong feelings about the idea of family farms — so much that they’re the one thing that all U.S. politicians agree on. Each election, candidates across the ideological spectrum roll out plans to save family farms — or give speeches about them, at least. From Little House on the Prairie to modern farmer’s markets, family farms are also the core of most Americans’ vision of what sustainable, just farming is supposed to look like.
But as someone who’s worked in agriculture for 20 years and researched the history of farming, I think we need to understand something: Family farming’s difficulties aren’t a modern problem born of modern agribusiness. It’s never worked very well. It’s simply precarious, and it always has been. Idealizing family farms burdens real farmers with overwhelming guilt and blame when farms go under. It’s crushing.
I wish we talked more openly about this. If we truly understood how rare it is for family farms to happen at all, never mind last multiple generations, I hope we could be less hard on ourselves. Deep down we all know that the razor-thin margins put families in impossible positions all the time, but we still treat it like it’s the ideal.
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