Burning Question: What Makes A Family Farm A Family Farm?

"Family farm” is a generic term that means many different things to many different people. Here’s one farmer’s take.

by Cherie Langlois

“Family farm” is a generic term that means many different things to many different people. Here’s one farmer’s take.

The term “family farm” has always had a fairly broad and simple meaning for me. Take some land and some sort of dwelling, throw in some plants and livestock, then add the key ingredient: one caring family to work and play there. A family to actually stick seeds in the ground, tend to the crops and the animals, and harvest the fruits of their labor.

Voilà, you have a family farm.

In my view, the composition of the farm family doesn’t matter, and it doesn’t matter how many years the farm has been passed from generation to generation. It’s not important whether the family farms full-time or not, nor where in the world the farm is located, because a family farm can exist anywhere. The farm can be big or tiny. It can have only a few crops or a large variety of crops.

But a family farm shouldn’t be a gigantic poisoned monoculture that spreads for miles in every direction, nary a weed in site. It can have only a few animals or many animals. But a family farm shouldn’t keep hundreds or thousands of suffering creatures packed into factories where they never see sunlight or feel a real breeze. Why? Because family farmers care about the land and animals that help sustain them. Or at least they should. Plus, can you imagine children playing on such farms? I can’t.

The USDA Economic Research Service defines a “family farm” as any farm where the majority of the business is owned by the operator and individuals related to the operator. The USDA goes on to define a “farm” as any place that produces and sells (or normally would sell) at least $1,000 of agricultural products during a given year. According to the USDA, most farms in the United States are family operations. What’s more, small family farms—defined as farms with a gross cash farm income of less than $350,000 a year—make up 90 percent of our country’s farm count.

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Under these definitions, however, the petite 5-acre farm where my husband and I live and where we raised our daughter—a farm I always thought of as our family farm—doesn’t count because we don’t operate it as a business and sell the requisite amount of products.

But I beg to differ.

A family farm isn’t about making lots of money or getting rich; it’s a way of life and being. We care for our animals and crops, in sickness and in health, and nurture our land as best we can. We savor eggs just gleaned from the hen house, a handful of newly plucked blueberries, ripe tomatoes off the vine. We give our friends fresh raspberry jam and delight in gifts of vibrant dahlias in return. We watch laughing children gather eggs in a basket or pick daisies from the field or cuddle a duckling. We get bramble scratches on our arms, get our hands dirty, and at day’s end, gather to eat and watch television and do whatever families do.


Your Take

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Everyone tends to put their own spin on the term “family farm,” sometimes relating it with small-scale farming and other…

Posted by Hobby Farms on Monday, July 20, 2015


Cherie LangloisHobby Farms Contributor

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