By: Kris Sollid, RD Date: 8/4/10
America. What a vast, fertile, and diverse place. In fact, there are so many places in America, it’s virtually impossible to have seen them all. This summer I had the pleasure of visiting a place that many Americans never have, and sadly never will. A place so much a part of our history, that our survival as a nation simply wouldn’t have been possible without it. That place is the small family farm.
Small family farms have endured the test of time, and in doing so, have had to change right along with the times. Technology has completely saturated our urban existence in America, but this summer I found out how much farms have been revolutionized too. To gain perspective on the subject, I picked the brain of my family’s resident expert; my uncle Berlin, who’s been farming his family’s plot of land in Northwestern Ohio for over 65 years.
I had visited the farm before, but hadn’t been back in years. With a keen interest in food these days, this experience was much different than as a child (there was no Billy goat to scare me off this time around). I had so many questions for him, where would I even begin?
I was probably most curious to know how scientific advancements have benefited the small farmer, or if they have at all? While science may have increased yields over time, I learned that it hasn’t done so in the manner I imagined. Turns out it has as much to do with efficiency as the ability to just grow more. He could remember a time as a child when his father farmed with horses; when technologies limited grain processing to shock and threshing techniques, much like the Amish still do today. Technology has grown steadily in the decades since then with larger combines, sophisticated seeds, and evolving practices enabling farmers to farm more land and get their crops in quicker. In his words, even for the small farmer, “everything’s just bigger anymore.”
A Big Impact?
Although it may make food more affordable, does “bigger” help make food more healthful or farming more sustainable? Questions about affordability and nutritional quality of small versus large farms or organic versus conventional farms are always up for debate, and I suspect the answers to those questions ultimately depend on your point of view. However, while “sustainability” seems to be the new buzzword within the nutrition community, it’s nothing new to the farming community. In fact, the concept has been around for many years and awareness to emerging practices continues to rise. Sustainable practices are more commonplace today (thanks in part to government incentives) and as my uncle said, “most farmers take good care of their ground and it’ll be here a long time after I’m gone.”
Is Bigger Better?
For the most part he concluded that farming is better today, but it’s also not what it used to be. I suppose nothing really is anymore. With so much innovation and technology surrounding us in this day and age, many of us urban dwellers (me included) take for granted exactly where food comes from and the tireless efforts made by those who bring it to market. For every gallon of milk, can of green beans, or perfectly ripened tomato we purchase from our local grocer, there was a farmer hard at work, miles away and months in advance, anticipating our needs and planting seeds. That fact is far too easy to forget.
Food comes from farms (and farmers), that’s what I learned this summer. Here's a video I shot at the farm talking to my uncle. Let me know what you think!