Husking corn was rare in our area when I captured this photo of my mother and grandparents during the mid 1970’s
Civilization is in a state of perpetual evolution. As knowledge and technology change, so do governments and occupations. During the sixties the viability of the traditional small family farm passed.
The Pennsylvania Farmer Magazine was delivered monthly to our mailbox. Frequently the editorial column would focus the wrath of the failing farmers upon the favorite whipping boy, the Middleman. At the time, as an adolescent, the identity of the middleman was quite unclear to me. Only later did I come to understand the propaganda value of creating this scapegoat for farmers to focus their anger upon, instead of on the real issues driving the farmers to expand or fail.
Looking back to the 1800’s and very early 1900’s the small, nearly self sufficient farm, was a model of success. Livestock provided the milk, eggs and meat required to feed the family. A large vegetable garden along with a small orchard provided the family with both fresh and canned fruits and vegetables. Many farms raised sheep to provide wool and meat as well. Any overabundance was traded with the neighbors or traded to the local store for goods or services that could not be produced. The farm family in reality required little that could not be produced on the farm. Energy consisted of muscle power, both human and draft animals. Land that was unsuitable for farming was allowed to grow in timber providing lumber and firewood.
As technology improved, no longer was the farmer limited to the small amount of acreage he could till with his team of horses. With the tractor, not only could the farmer maintain more acreage, he needed to if he were to survive. With this increased technology came other increased cost; gasoline, diesel, electricity, telephone, insurance, fertilizer, and let us not forget taxation.
As the farmers productivity increased so did the distance to market along with an ever increasing requirement to deliver a more consistent processed product.
This is where the infamous, much maligned “Middleman” entered onto the scene. Who you might ask is this Middleman?
He is the trucker, the butcher, and the cashier at the local grocery store. He is the man at the feed mill who buys grain and then grinds and formulates it into livestock feed. He is the Kellogg’s who processes the corn into cornflakes; he is General Mills who turns oats into Cheerios. In short, the Middleman is everyone involved in moving the farmer’s product to market. Was the Middleman responsible for the demise of the family farm? In my humble opinion I say no!
Ultimately technology was to “blame” for making the remaining farms larger, more productive and more efficient while operating on slimmer profit margins. Because of farming improvements our country has been blessed with some of the cheapest food on the face of the earth; the cost was the loss of a way of life; The Small Family Farm.