Although I am not a life-long farmer, I am fortunate to have had intimate experiences with where my food comes from. I spent most of my childhood on an acreage outside of Lincoln, Nebraska. I remember issues of Mother Earth News being devoured by my parents, so my dream to be self-sustainable was an interesting journey as a child, and one that many might think would conflict with my life on a large farm. It does not.
When I was a child, we grew most of what we ate. My mother was a canning queen and so proud of the canning room that held quarts and quarts of food from our two-acre garden, which was non-stop summer work! My family raised and butchered our own chickens (broilers), we had layer hens for eggs, and helped butcher and smoke hogs raised with our neighbors.
Sacrifices were made to raise a huge garden and take care of livestock. We were honored by the lives of our livestock and appreciated our food throughout the year’s meals – our hands had touched many aspects of the food we raised. The circle of life gives us all life.
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Today, I live and work on a farm near Shelton, Nebraska, where my husband Paul and I have worked for decades. Our motivating force for growing our farm over the years has been to have a farm all five of our kids and their spouses could return to, if they so desired.
Currently, my husband and I have a son and son-in-law who have chosen to work full-time on the farm. Our other children have chosen to pursue their dreams outside of agriculture. On our farm, we have a fantastic team of employees (our “farmly”), and together we plant corn, seed corn, soybeans, sorghum, corn sileage and hay. We irrigate and harvest our crops, and we raise and feed cattle in a feedlot.
Unlike the small family acreage I grew up on, the scale of the farm I live on now is large. But, very much like the acreage where I was raised, I deeply love every aspect of our farm and ranch I live on now. The size of farm does not change the amount of love, care, empathy and compassion we put into raising crops and livestock. I always say, those of us who know what it is like to have soil under our fingernails or manure on our boots FEEL what it is like to grow a plant from a seed and/or raise livestock needing 24/7 care. Size does not change how deeply we care about what we nurture.
There are about 2 million farms in operation in the U.S. today, employing about 1.3% of the employed population (about 2.6 million people). Of those farms in operation in the U.S., 98% are family owned. Sizes vary. The USDA has a bulletin, “America’s Diverse Family Farms, 2020 Edition,” that goes into detail about our U.S. farms. While interesting, you don’t need to read it to know that we need every acre, every farmer, every farm for our national and global food, fiber and fuel needs. ALL farms matter. Let us start looking at how we are similar, how we can stand together, how we can help each other learn.
The world is full of opportunity and farmers have given society the gift of choice – choice in their life journey and choice in agricultural goods. Our people deserve the best and only a DIVERSITY of farms can give them that.