letter from an “old” young family farmer

posted December 6, 2010

(self-described!)

I was just introduced to your web page and am delighted to find like minded people speaking out to those that may be hearing the call to be stewards of the soil.
Upon reading your webpage, I found myself struck by an irresistible urge to write and provide you some feedback from the perspective of an “old” young family farmer.
A little about me, I grew up on a family dairy farm in upstate New York in the 1950’s and 1960’s.  I loved the family farm life and looked upon it as my life calling.  I attended Cornell University where I was trained in some of the latest advances and studies in agriculture, but also exposed to the oncoming ‘rush’ of agribusiness and even warned by one of my professors about the potential downside of the agribusiness movement, i.e. the ruination of the culture of the American farm family.  Upon graduation in 1972 I explored the possibility of taking on a life in farming and was stunned by the initial investment ($100,000) that it was going to require for my first year of operation of a 10 year lease-to-purchase farm, with the prospect of no return until the 2nd year of my lease, I choose another life path.
As I have now the freedom to consider where to apply my energies for the next phase of my life, I have dusted off my endlessly re-occuring dream of family farmer and looked at how to best use my talents and wisdom to start to rebuild the American cultural cornerstone that was the American farm family.  It is from this perspective and in the vein of contribution that I write.  I want to encourage you to reconsider the language on your homepage.  I offer that it may be a bit more enticing invitation for people considering a life of farming for you to consider what farming was for my family, i.e it was not an ‘occupation’, but rather it was a family life style commitment…more akin to family spiritual practice than an ‘economic’ choice of need.   It is a humbling and deeply satisfying choice and life style that requires the entire family to choose again every day.  From my experience, the rewards were/are far beyond anything that could be applied to the term ‘occupation’.  I learned lessons that serve me daily, especially in our current world that has gone wild in the pursuit of the ever illusive ‘bottom line’ where quality and balance take a back seat to quantity and imbalance.
One last observation, family farmers are ageless, they are all young and learning, they never ‘retire’, and its never too late to choose family farming.
I wish you the best of luck in promoting the family life style and I pray for its return…along with the sanity and balance inherent in communities grounded in the practice of family farming.

Thanks for this opportunity to pontificate, I hope you find some of my words to be useful.

Bill Gaffney