Illinois Farm Families Blog

Jan 19 2012

A farmer’s take on family farms vs. industrial farms, part 1

We received a question from one of our visitors asking, “What differentiates a family farm from an industrial farm?” Since 94 percent of Illinois farms are family farms, we opened up the question to our Illinois farmers. We’ll share more farmer perspectives next week; and in the meantime, we invite you to share your view in the comment area below.

Here’s the take:

From Jessica Zobrist, Downalane Dairy Farm, Madison County, Highland, Illinois:
While the term “industrial” seems cold, pressured, and unfeeling, the term “family” invokes warmth, understanding, and passion.  I’m not so sure farms can always be clearly divided into one of these two categories.

Oftentimes, family farms are farms which have been passed on from generation to generation to generation by people who have a deep passion for raising animals, growing crops, and carrying on the family name.  This passion is reflected by how much they care about their livestock and their concerns about the ways they work their ground.  Most “family farmers” chose this pathway because it’s truly in their blood; they would choose farming as a profession regardless of the yearly salary and so-called benefit package.  They are environmentalists to their acreage and caregivers to their livestock.  This passion is often transferred, through the blood, to the farmers’ kids — thus continuing the Family Farm.

If the Family Farm is such a beautiful, caring entity, then is the Industrial Farm the bad guy?  Not in my opinion.  Industrial farms are often run by people who also care about their livestock and their crops. They have just taken a different path and ended up at a farm owned and operated as a company versus a family-owned farm.  Many farms that could be considered “industrial” are promoted as being family-oriented simply because the term “family” makes the general population feel as though the farm is being run by people who care; not just an Average Joe trying to bring in a paycheck.  But remember, the Average Joe may have just grown up in the city, accidentally fallen in love with farming during college, and ended up running an industrial farm, because there was no family farm to return home to.  He will still nurture his animals and crops!

For those of us passionate about farming, we hope that all farms are being run by those who care as much about the cows and pigs and corn and alfalfa as we do.  It doesn’t matter whether the farm is a family or industrial farm as long as there are people carrying out everyday activities who love what they do.  Whether you’re a banker, or a baker, or a boxer… whether your paycheck is signed by Dad or Mr. Smith… whether your son follows in your footsteps or blazes his own path… it doesn’t matter where you work as long as you can honestly say you love what you do!

From Bill Johnson, Professor and Agriculture Production /Swine Coordinator at Joliet Junior College:
What I teach our students is that a family farm is any farm where the majority of the labor and management is provided by members of the family.  The capital and land can be provided by someone else or be borrowed.  An industrial farm in my mind is any farm that utilizes modern technology on any scale.  A pre-industrial farm would use animal and human power and primitive technology.  Neither of these terms imply anything about size or scale except you cannot operate a large farm without using modern technology.

From Lance Taraochione, farmer from London Mills, Illinois:
The term “industrial farm” was created for the purpose of portraying a negative and scary image of large-scale, modern agriculture.   In any industry, there are family businesses. Some family businesses have grown into large corporations while others fit the stereotype of a small “mom and pop” operation.  Farming is no different. Some family farms are quaint, small and idyllic, while others are very large, specialized and progressive.  They may be very different in size and scale, but one is not inherently better than the other. I know some very large farms operated by families, but none of these operations are truly industrial farms.  I think we run the risk of legitimizing false and negative perceptions when we try to draw distinctions between family farms and something that really doesn’t exist – the perceived “industrial farm.”

We welcome your questions and participation for a conversation about today's food and farming. Illinois Farm Families reserves the right to moderate or remove inappropriate, threatening or otherwise inflammatory comments.

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