Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Death of the Family Farm

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.


Anonymous said...

Husking corn. Wow. I wish I had a photo of those days. When the horse pulled the wagon with side boards down the rows of corn shocks and the farmer shucked out the ears and throwed the corn into the wagon and when the shock was done the horse, somehow, knew it was time to move to the next shock. Those days are gone forever and it is a sad thought, especially for the horses who not only lost a job but a life on the farm.

Happy Valentine's Day.

Old Wom Tigley said...

This is a great post Salty.. it sure is a sad tales as well. I like the idea of the 'Small Farm' lifestyle... producing just enough for you needs and a little besides. To be content with that would be a blessing now. We would all be to much wrapped up in our 'Small Farms' to worry about what was going on in one country or another. IF ONLY... I'm sure that life was hard back then.. but theres a big differance to what 'hard' means... give me the Small Farm way of life anyday... I'd gladly have given up on what I've now got used to.
I really enjoyed this post and the thoughts it put in my head.. I know that I'll be thinking more of these throughout the day as well.

imac said...

That is one sad tale of days gone forever, but memories are great, also the photo tells a story too.
Love this post Salty.

Happy Valentines Day to you and all your family.
and see my Valentines message

Willard said...

Truly a great post. We grew up at the end of an era! I can just remember our grandparents having a horse. I can actually remember granddad holding me while he fed ears of corn to the horse.