Passing It On Down

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Three generations checking out cows on the Gator.

Did you know that 60 percent of farmers are 58 years old and older? Research is showing a continuous increase of the average age of the American farmer. The increasing age is causing remaining farms to expand in size and smaller farms to leave the business. No worries though — there is much confidence that the US farm sector will be able to handle the demand for agricultural products, in part due to new technologies being produced to improve farm efficiency. While this can be considered good news, there are some drawbacks to having large farms, such as a lack of relationship between producers and buyers, not supporting local economies through purchase of in-town products, and less families being raised on the farm.

It seems as though we are losing that personal touch that the small farmer provides. Have you ever picked strawberries on the farm and watched the producer beam with pride when you mentioned, ”Those were the best berries I have ever tasted”? Have you ever purchased beef off the farm and received the whole health and genetic history of the animal giving the meat? That is not something you can get from the grocery store. The average American is becoming more and more disconnected to those producing their food, and in turn, the land. This causes us to not appreciate the smaller things in life, like picking your own berries and having friendships with those responsible for producing fresh foods.

When you buy local products, you are supporting your neighbor — the lady you wave to every morning as she waters her garden. When you purchase from a major chain, you take money out of your community. Of course, you cannot buy everything local, but every little bit helps. Support your neighbors and friends; you might need a hand up one day.

It seems to me that one of the most precious commodities in America should be our farms. This means we should be making sure they continue to thrive. They provide food, fuel, clothing, medicine, and many products we use on a daily basis. Yet so many folks are selling out, and future generations are no longer being raised on the farm. Children do not have the privilege of slinging square bales in the barn loft or feeding newborn calves. Yet, I cannot blame families for leaving the farm. Farming is a 53-week-per-year job — it never ends! There are always chores to be done; if you do not have to feed the cattle, then there is hay, and do not forget the machinery upkeep and the odd jobs. This never-ending pace can make it hard on families to thrive. But what can we do to keep passing our agricultural heritage to our children? Here are some suggestions:

1. Start involving them at a young age. They may be two, but get them a little bucket to carry around to “help” during feeding time.

2. Pass on your knowledge. Are you a good mechanic? Or can you grow the best tomatoes this side of the Mississippi? Teach your children and grandchildren those skills. Do not take them to the grave with you.

3. As children get older, allow them to make decisions that impact the farm. I am not talking about expensive decisions, but allow them to decide what breed of chickens to purchase and give a reason for why they picked that breed.

4. Allow them to make mistakes. If they are making decisions, sometimes things do not work out according to plan. Those chickens they wanted to purchase for egg layers turned out to be better meat birds, and there are no eggs to sell. Make them work with what they have and make those mistakes a teaching moment.

5. Communicate about passing the farm down to future generations. Be open and honest about how the transition will take place between parents and children. This is certainly not easy, but necessary to prevent future misunderstandings.

There are probably many ways to keep the family farm up and running. What suggestions do you have?

Cow giving me her best, “Leave me alone” look!