Farming — it was the first profession, along with botany. I often wonder how long it took Adam to name all those animals, insects, fish and birds. It must have gone quickly with the Great Shepherd parading them by — now that is a farmhand I’d happily pay $15 an hour.
The other element of the Creation which fascinates me is laboring on the land without sweat or toil, and without pestilence or pests to destroy. A farmer’s dream!
This thought will be especially poignant in July as the beads of sweat drip from my nose as I tend my fields.
Despite its rigors and heartbreaks, farming is necessary to human existence — as the bumper stickers proclaim: “No Farms, No Food.” Also, about 70 percent of U.S. economic consumption is related to farm products and farming activities.
Additionally, there is a spiritual aspect to it, a grounding, if you will. There is a sense of completeness when one labors on the land and harvests the fruit of that labor. It’s enshrined in the Declaration as “…the pursuit of Happiness.”
You can experience it with just a visit to a farm, marveling at the harmony of the land, animals and man. I believe this is because we were created in a garden — The Garden — so our soul should feel completely at home on a farm.
This is one of the reasons agritourism is so popular. Unfortunately, in America, we have seen the decline of arable land and in the family-owned farm.
The independent, small farmer is aging out. U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics show that 21 percent of family-owned farms do not have a next generation. Worse yet, the average age of farmers is about 60, and the average age of new and beginning farmers is 44. Few sustainable careers or ways of life have those demographics.
The loss of farmers is bad, but the loss of farmland is worse. Between 2019 and 2020 the U.S. lost 4,400 farms, encompassing an estimated 800,000 acres (that is nearly two Moore Counties). This is quite staggering and should be of great concern to anyone who enjoys eating, since farmland lost to development is lost forever.
I believe part of the reason for these statistics is due to a number of barriers to new entrants. Training and education are one. Thankfully, over the last 20-plus years, we have seen an increase in both affordable and free opportunities for training in farming.
There is also a newfound desire by many to choose farming as a way of life. However, training and education are small potatoes when compared to the cost of entering farming. Depending on your geographic location, a mere 10 acres of arable land can cost a farmer $100,000 or more.
Unless you are a tech oligarch, the federal government or a foreign country, new farmers simply cannot afford to purchase large tracts of existing family farms. This particular barrier is creating a great consolidation of land ownership.
According to The Land Report Magazine, 100 of the top private landowners control over 40 million acres — roughly the equivalent of the state of Florida. Ten years ago, they had less than 30 million.
This loss of the family farm and its associated land consolidation, coupled with a reliance on global supply chains, was laid bare during the recent pandemic. Many a financial planner will tell you that a consolidated and concentrated position is extremely fragile. The same is true of our food supply.
If we have learned nothing else from the pandemic, we should have learned this: Global commercial entities are not the saviors of our food needs. From seeds and fertilizers to fruits, vegetables and meat, we saw firsthand the fragility of this overreliance play out in empty store shelves.
I do not advocate all-or-nothing solutions. Corporate farms, a global supply chain and the need for housing to support a growing population are necessary; but they should not be at the expense of farms. There must be a give-and-take.
Yet the numbers are against the new farmer. How do they compete at scale? Where do they get the capital to start up? What is the right acreage to be successful?
Do not despair. Many early adopters embraced the agritourism boom of the last 20 years. Now, the pandemic has pushed many toward self-sufficiency. I am encouraged when it is difficult to find seeds and canning supplies. People are paying attention and once again taking food safety and security into their own hands.
Our grandparents did the same during World War II when they faced rationing and food shortages. With their “victory gardens,” they obtained a level of independence and self-sufficiency, which also lessened the burden elsewhere. What if these modern-day victory gardeners became the next family farmers? Is this the incubator for the Rural Renaissance?
Nick Lasala lives in Cameron.