To Save the Family Farm

Rarely is it that one chooses to go into an agricultural business with the expectation of getting rich. Often it is a much more emotional connection to the practices of raising animals, growing food, and working with the land that draws people to the dream of owning a farm. For many, that emotional connection also comes from the lineage of family members who have lived and worked on the same land for multiple generations.

                  For Massachusetts farmers, that dream of continuing                                                             the family farm gets harder every decade.

Within our state, the ability to own and operate a farm is constantly challenged by unrealistic regulations  that cost farmers time and money with little beneficial outcome.  Perhaps that is why the average age of a farmer within our state is 55-65 years old. With greater opportunities for financial success off of the family farm, as well as the challenges (naturally, economically, politically) of trying to survive in this business, there is less interest and ability to take over the farm operation from older generations.

For many reasons, it is critical that we preserve farmland and make the path to operating a profitable farm business realistic and accessible. This can be done in a number of ways; one of which is being worked through state legislation right now.

The local agriculture community is supporting a piece of legislation that would reduce the estate tax imposed on a piece of land when the owner dies. This is important because currently when a farmer passes away, their land is accessed at its highest value, which is typically housing developments. Many families in this situation who want to continue farming on their land are forced to pay exorbitant taxes on land that won’t generate them much money. For this reason, those family members are often forced to sell off parts, or all, of the land for development in order to pay that tax.

This new bill (H 3323/S 1584) states that farmland that is transferred under the death of the owner would be accessed at its agricultural value as long as it stays farmland.  This is a much more feasible cost to those wishing to carry on their family’s tradition of utilizing land for its natural purpose.

This bill not only has the ability to make farming a more feasible opportunity to younger generations, it will also maintain open land within the state. Both of these things are good for our state’s economy, ecology, and communities.

There is a family in Western MA going through a very similar situation and trying to save their farm. Follow this link to learn more about them, and help them preserve a 4th generation family farm.

2017: A Year for Real Food (Jan. 1st, 2017)

*** This post was originally published on an older site. I’ve transferred it here, to the updated Face of the Farmer website. ***

Over the past few years the trend of buying locally produced food has grown tremendously. Farmers markets are popping up all over the country, and many restaurants now source from local producers. For small-scale farmers, this trend comes with successes and challenges.

Now more than every, consumers are looking for that personal connection to their food. They’re excited to see how real farms work, and relish at the opportunity to milk a cow or pull a handful of rainbow colored carrots out of the ground. That connection between food and consumer is so important. It presents an opportunity to educate the public about how produce is really grown, and why animals are raised the way they are. It gives customers a chance to talk personally with the farmers working hard to produce their food. And while it can be hard to invite the public into the everyday workings of our lives and businesses, this effort has the potential to pay-it-forward for the benefit of farmers and consumers alike.

When people have no idea where their food comes from, they may unknowingly make decisions that harm families who work tirelessly to provide their communities with healthy food. This can be because their ideas of how a farm should look or smell, or how animals should be treated, vastly differ from reality. Yes, manure spread over a field does smell for a couple days, but it provides nutrients for the soil and reduces the need for fertilizers. And just like humans, animals get sick too. Sometimes we need to give them antibiotics to reduce their suffering and make them better, just like we would for our own children. But there is no risk to a consumer when an animal is given antibiotics because that animal cannot be used for milk or meat until a certain period of time when the drugs are out of their system. Although an action may seem gross, or harmful to an animal, there is likely a good reason behind it that benefits the health of the farm. If you are ever unsure about a certain practice on a farm, ask the farmer why is done that way. We are happy to share with the public our reasons for operation.

I will however, caution you on one aspect of this new movement for healthier food, which is labeling. Now that buying organic, cage free, natural food is popular, large corporations are also using similar phrases to market their products, when it may in fact not be entirely true. For example, just because a container of strawberries says “organic,” it does not mean that pesticides were not sprayed on them, or that workers were payed a fair wage to harvest them. It also does not specify the time between when those strawberries were picked, and when they ended up on the shelf at the grocery store. And when a carton of eggs says “cage free,” it does not mean that the chickens who laid them ever have access to sunlight or green grass. All of these phrases can be tricky to decipher, so stay tuned for my next blog post in which I attempt to explain these different marketing gimmicks.

For that reason and many more, I will continue to advocate for local food and the continued conversation between farmer and consumer. Buying from a local family gives one the opportunity to find out exactly how their food was raised and the reasons behind those practices. Local farmers are the people in our communities who want the best for their land, their families, and the health of their neighbors. I will also continue to remind people that farming is not a lucrative business. We are not in it for the money. Farming is a a way of life that goes beyond the boundaries of a 9-5 job. It is our hard work, our dreams, and our passions. Buying responsibly raised food from a local farmer doesn’t just provide someone with a paycheck. It is an investment into one’s community, into the health of the earth, and towards the livelihood of many local families.

So when it is no longer cool to post a photo of oneself shopping at a farmers market, or taking selfies with goats, please do not forget the farmers who continue to provide food for your communities. We will still be here staying up till all hours of the night birthing calves, and laboriously growing vegetables in a season’s long drought. We are in it for the highs and lows; the challenges and successes. We hope that as years go on, the passion for healthy food does not diminish.

The number of small-scale farms in the United States is continually growing, thanks to the large interest in eating healthier food. Surprisingly, the amount of people who buy locally sourced food is just under  1% nationally. That statistic is a bit higher in Massachusetts, at about 13%. Perhaps a good resolution for the New Year is to find out where your food comes from and promise to make it more local. Buy a CSA share, volunteer to work for a day, shop at the farmers market, and eat at local restaurants that partner with area farms. There are so many ways to get involved, and with the rise of social media it is easier than ever to figured out where you can gain that connection to your food.

 

Welcome (Posted Nov. 29th, 2016)

*** This post was originally published on an older site. I’ve transferred it here, to the updated Face of the Farmer website. ***

Greetings!

My name is Hannah Miller, and I am the current manager of the Face of the Farmer project in Sterling, Massachusetts. The documentation project began in 2012 by Lisa Perry, a fellow agriculture enthusiast and very good friend of mine. The project, which was partially funded by the Sterling Local Cultural Council, sought to bring light to the farms and farmers of our town who work hard to care for the land and provide healthy food to the community.

Lisa interviewed all of the farmers in town who produce food food for people. Scripts of those interview can be found on our website, faceofthefarmer.org. Her interviews, which were later presented at various town functions, sought to “raise awareness of who [our farmers] are, where they are, what they raise, and how to buy their product.”

Lisa recently passed over the administrative duties of the website to me, and I will do my very best to continue her legacy of recognizing, supporting, and promoting our local area farmers. I will do so by managing this blog with the goal of raising awareness of farming topics pertinent to our local food system. I have also started a Facebook page under the same title, Face of the Farmer – Sterling, which will seek to highlight the news and events happening at the farms in our town.

 

A bit about me…

I am a 21 year old college student set to graduate from the Stockbridge School of Agriculture at UMass Amherst in the spring of 2017 with a degree in sustainable agriculture. I was born and raised in Sterling in a family that has also contributed to the local agriculture community. My grandfather and uncle milked dairy cows on our farm until 1998 when the economic hardships of running a dairy forced my uncle to sell the cows. I feel very fortunate to grow up in an area of open farmland and to have been exposed to agriculture from the get-go. My mom says that dairy farming is in our blood, and I won’t deny it. I’ve always thought that for farmers, especially those who raise livestock, the job must be like a drug. How else could someone work day in and day out from before sun up until after sun down and come out with little profit?! All I know is that I’ve caught the bug too and am crazy enough to think that I want to do the same thing for the rest of my life. I plan to start farming endeavors on our land once I graduate from school.

For the past six years I’ve worked closely with Ann Starbard of Crystal Brook Farm, making fresh goat cheese to send to restaurants, shops, and farmer’s markets across the state. The experience, knowledge, and lessons that I’ve learned from working at Crystal Brook are invaluable, and I will certainly carry them with me as I navigate that world of farming, and, well, the world in general.

Along with pursuing an interest in dairy, I have learned a lot about growing produce from my time at school. I am currently a member of the UMass Student Farm Enterprise, a student-run organic farm serving the campus community. Being in the Stockbridge School has provided me with a plethora of agricultural knowledge as well the opportunity to connect with Massachusetts farmers, either those who have been in the business for years and have a multitude of knowledge to share, or those who are going through the program alongside myself and plan to return to family farms or start their own one day.

I’ve also spend a bit of time working with the crew at Lilac Hedge Farm, which is a sustainably-raised meat farm based out of Holden, MA. That gave me to the opportunity to  delve into an area of agriculture I knew little about. To read about my adventures there, see Meat Your Farmer. At Lilac Hedge Farm I became friends with Ryan Mackay, one of the co-owners. Ryan introduced me to the Massachusetts Young Farmer and Rancher group, a subdivision of the Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation. Young farmers from across the state meet every few months to visit a local farm and discuss topics prevalent to Massachusetts agriculture.

Through these various endeavors I strive to learn as much about agriculture as I possibly can, and to take to heart the advice that others have given me. Through my new role as the Face of the Farmer admin, I will do my very best to bring light to Sterling’s farmers and share with you my knowledge of agriculture. If you have any questions about Sterling’s farms, or suggestions for future blog posts, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Here I am, harvesting lettuce at the UMass Student Farm.