I think I have mentioned before that my Grandfather raised beef cattle, black Angus to be exact. He didn’t consider or refer to himself as a “farmer” he was a cattleman but it seems today, at least in my urban neck of the woods, that anyone who works in the agriculture business is a farmer.
My wife and I ride our bicycles through a lot of farmland. In our part of the world we don’t have massive corporations tilling hundreds or thousands of acres of land. What we have are small farms, growing tomatoes, corn, soybeans, strawberries, and other crops. It’s easy to pedal past these fields and old white farm houses with big front porches and think how nice it would be to wake-up every morning to this tranquil and serene setting but I know, first hand, how hard and risky farming is. I have seen what happens when pastures turn brown from a lack of rain and you are scrambling to find feed for your livestock. Or when your land is flooded as happened recently in our state from Hurricane Matthew and your entire crop, your livelihood, is under water for days and weeks.
I don’t have any hard facts or evidence of this but my gut tells me that the number of family farms is dwindling. As romantic as it may seem I am sure competing against massive farms and corporations has hurt the mom and pop farms just like Wal-Mart has hurt the mom and pop retailer on Main St. I do most of the grocery shopping and honestly, I am not sure where any of our food comes from anymore. When I buy strawberries in the dead of winter I know they aren’t coming from my state I am not even sure if they are coming from the United States.
In the olden days, when you went to the grocery store they only sold fruits and vegetables that were in season. If you wanted strawberries in January you bought frozen ones. Now, everything seems to be in season 12 months a year. When my Grandmother cooked a meal of fresh vegetables in the winter we ate Beets, Collards, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts and Cabbage she pulled out of her garden along with pole beans and tomatoes she canned in the Summer. My Grandparents ate what they grew and when it grew. Part of me says this is a good thing, the way it should be, but I certainly enjoy grilling fresh corn on the cob in February.
Over the last few years a new phenomenon has entered our community, restaurants that bill themselves as farm to table eateries. Not only do these establishments serve fresh seasonal foods they have also spurred a cottage industry of small specialized farms to supply them with fresh meats and vegetables. We also now have a small grocery store that only sales foods, both fresh and packaged grown or prepared in our state.
My kids seem to be much more conscience of the foods they prepare and eat, certainly more so than I am. They are willing to pay a little more and they do so because of the assurances they receive that what they are buying is grown not as a process but with care and consideration. That might seem silly to some but if it helps keep small family farms in business I am all for it. I like the scenery of corn silk blowing in the wind as I pedal by.