Saturday, March 6, 2021


Do Family Farms Still Exist?

Melissa Green PhotoI have a confession to make. I am little spoiled and sheltered, but not in the ways you may think. I would say I am spoiled because I grew up eating meat that we raised on our family ranch. We always had high quality, juicy and tender beef. This also means I am a bit sheltered because I do not know how much meat actually costs in a supermarket.

Maybe you did not grow up on a farm or ranch like me. But did you know that 97% of farms in the US are family owned? That is pretty impressive! The USDA Economic Research Service conducted an ag survey in 2011. They defined a farm as a place that produces and sells at least $1,000 of agricultural products in a year. They also say a family farm is where the majority of the business is owned and operated by people related to one another. In my travels, I have met many friends who are the 5th generation on their family’s farm. That kind of legacy is remarkable. Can you imagine the fascinating stories shared around that dinner table?

farm valuesThe USDA survey also shows that 87% of the farms in the United States are small family farms. Just how small is small? A small family farm is one where the yearly sales of agricultural products are less than $250,000. On average, small family farms make less of a profit than large farms. Therefore, many small family operations rely on off the farm work as their primary source of income.

Let’s break this down to a more personal level. Think of any family members, friends, or acquaintances you know related to agriculture. Now imagine that more than 80% of them run a small family farm. Along with the daily farming tasks, these people also work a job off the farm to bring in 44-92% of their income. I am picturing a farmer who puts in a full day at the office and then comes home to plow fields or work with livestock. And all in an effort to provide food for other people. Talk about dedication and passion for their craft!

For me, growing up on a small family ranch provided some unique opportunities, including good beef and lamb. While I couldn’t ride my bike down the street to a friend’s house, my backyard was a giant playground of rolling hills and oak trees. Most importantly, the ranch provided valuable learning experiences. Raising animals for the fair taught me to be responsible for another living creature. Weekends spent cleaning barns, sorting sheep, and building fence taught me the value of hard work. And to appreciate my hard earned cash!

Family farms, small and large, account for 85% of agricultural production. The next time you buy food, fiber, or flowers, remember there is a good chance that it came from a family farm.


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