It’s rare to find a farmer who tells you their job is an easy one. It’s full of long days, hard work, and a host of things that are out of their control. But still they proudly put on their work boots and head out the door every morning to make the best out of what they have. Farming is a calling, a way of life they have chosen, and many farmers dream that their children will find the same allure in providing food, fuel and fiber for their families and the world.
However, that is not the sentiment expressed in a recent headline on the New York Times editorial page: “Don’t Let Your Children Grow Up to be Farmers.” It caught me a bit off guard, and I had to read the piece to understand where this Long Island shellfish and seaweed farmer was coming from. I get it. The provocative headline was meant to catch my attention. It was meant to stir debate. And it worked. The article was passed around on social media and received many comments online.
The bottom line of the editorial is that being a farmer can be tough. We all know farm families who have off-farm jobs to make ends meet in the lean years. While the boom of the local food movement has put an added emphasis on buying from a farmer down the road, it doesn’t take away the fact that price drives most consumer decisions, whether they are made at a farm market or a supermarket. It also doesn’t negate the fact that obtaining access to money and land can be hard for new farmers.
In the editorial, Bren Smith wrote, “It’s time for farmers to shape our own agenda.” That is something the New York Farm Bureau has been doing longer than any other agricultural organization in the country. Founded more than 100 years ago in Broome County, the New York Farm Bureau has given farmers a voice. It allows members to come together to talk about these very issues, and better yet, to find solutions to deal with them. Just this year, we were successful in getting new programs in the state budget to assist new farmers, we pushed for greater expansion of crop insurance in the latest farm bill to address the kinds of crops we grow so well in New York and the Northeast, and we are working on ways to expand the food distribution network across the state so our farm products can get into the hands of consumers. However, there is a long way to go to reduce regulations so that our farmers will not be crushed by fees and taxes that put them at a competitive disadvantage compared to farmers across the country and overseas.
Despite the challenges, I still believe we should encourage our children to take over the reins of the family farm. More and more of our young people are leaving to go to college and come back with an agricultural degree and skills that will help them be better farmers, managers and caretakers of the land. They understand the value that comes with being a farmer. Why wouldn’t we encourage our children to know the feeling of watching the sunrise as they tend to the dairy cows? Why not teach them the value that comes with a hard day’s work? Who wouldn’t want to see their son or daughter across the orchard sharing in the same passion for life that they have? I can’t imagine not encouraging our children to become farmers.
That being said, we must all work together to make sure our children are given the opportunity to succeed. No matter what we grow or how much land we have, this is a value that we all share. We want to create a better life for the next generation, and I am proud to say the New York Farm Bureau has been doing that for over a century.
Our grassroots process epitomizes the work being done to carry on the agricultural legacy. Whether it’s happening in an American Legion dining hall or the local church basement, our members are gathering for a good cause at annual county meetings across New York. Soon the state annual meeting will be under way as well. Our members will talk about what is happening on their farms – the good and the bad – and set their sights on what is to come next year. No doubt there will be all kinds of opinions. We will hear a bunch of ideas about what needs to happen, and then our members will take a vote. With a show of hands, as they pass or reject resolutions, each one will help set the tone for our public policy priorities.
There aren’t as many of us as there used to be. We often hear that 1 percent of us feed the other 99 percent. We are already faced with opposition from certain factions outside of our ranks as we look to do what is right for our farms, our animals, our employees and the environment. This only solidifies the need for those of us in the agricultural community to support one another. We may have differing ideas, but we have a common cause. The hope is to keep our farms viable for the next generation, a generation that will be encouraged to stay on the farm. I know I would welcome my son and daughter with open arms if they looked to be a part of the family business.