On Generational Farming


People farm for many reasons. For the pride in producing food. For the lifestyle connected to the land. To make a living. To provide for a family. To build a legacy.

I’ve contemplated every single one of them over the years, perhaps none more than the last, but it wasn’t until my own kid made her first investment in a longterm agriculture venture that I really paused to think about what it means to pass agriculture down through the generations.

I remember talking with a friend about their own experience making sense of generational transfer as an adult farm “kid,” their desire to have something to look forward to, and the work involved in getting their parents on board, and I have to be honest: it was a perplexing conversation for me. I didn’t — still to some extent don’t — understand a lack of desire to pass a farm off to your children. Farming, after all, has always been one of this nation’s most familial of business ventures. If the farm is doing anything other than going under it’s virtually always simply expected that at least one of the farm kids will take over once they become an adult — even when it’s difficult for the older generation to let go.

And to me this has always made sense. Until my oldest daughter invested her own money into a cow-calf pair. Suddenly, premature as it may be, the magnitude of this legacy, this family pastime, this profession-obsession-identity, this whatever-you-want-to-call it, hit me. And I have to be honest: suddenly I wasn’t so sure. I found myself understanding my friends’ parents more than my friend. My mind kept replaying the same question over and over: do I want this for her? And not just to farm, but to be in agriculture as an industry. And I couldn’t be sure. I have since come to the conclusion that of course I do. Of course I want this for her. But I wouldn’t say that conclusion came easily, or even quickly. The cow has been here for just about two months now and I’m just getting around to writing this down, after all.

It’s not about the legacy though, nor about the continuation of a tradition, or a tie to their roots. I want this for them, because the continuation is a representation of from whence they came. Because as much as I might be able to imagine an easier — or maybe even a quote-unquote better — future for them, I cannot imagine a better past. I cannot fathom having raised them anywhere else, with any other values or experiences. Are there other things I wish I’d had an opportunity to add to their upbringing? Absolutely. But I can’t think of anything about it that I would want to take away; there’s nothing I would subtract from the sum total of their lives so far.

And so, if the natural progression of the upbringing I’m absolutely honored to have been able to give them is a future even as a struggling member of this industry, I certainly can’t complain.