"I tried to prove that small family farms are the future. I couldn’t do it." That is what freelance journalist and farmers daughter Sarah Mock concludes from research for her book 'Farm (and Other F Words): The Rise and Fall of the Small Family Farm'.
"The myth of the noble, independent grower keeps this nation from acknowledging that farming is simply a profession, and small farmers pay the price," she says.
Small family farms
Having grown up on a small family farm herself, Sarah was certain that they were not only the future of our food system, but also the best and most virtuous way to organize agriculture. However, as she visited small family farms nationwide, success stories were few and far between, and she found those stories often depended on inherited wealth and profit-driven models that we do not associate with the humble homestead of American myth. "I’d believed I’d failed to find the successful small family farms that must surely be out there. It didn’t occur to me for a long time that I couldn’t find them because they don’t really exist."
She sees that numerous support systems, as well as frequent infusions of cheap land and labor, have not been enough to make the small family farm model work. "Today, only about 2 million family farms remain in the country, and to support them, the federal government continues to spend about $20 billion annually. Trawling through the historical record, it’s clear that the small family farm is less a viable business plan than a social pacifier."
Sarah also found out that there are alternatives to the small independent family farm models to build community and fight oppression. "From the efforts of Black farmers to the farm cooperatives built by Japanese Americans when their community fought to survive internment, right through important modern work being done on native lands or within organizations like The Abundant Table, a worker-managed farm in Southern California focused on paying its workers living wages, serving culturally relevant food, and pursuing land justice."
Sarah Mock is a freelance food, agriculture, and rural issues writer. She is the author of "Farm (and Other F Words): The Rise and Fall of the Small Family Farm."