Monday, March 24, 2008

Family Farms and John Ikerd

I don't exactly remember how I came across this, but I stumbled on it sometime last week when I was searching. "Family Farms in an Era of Global Uncertainty" was the title of a lecture that John Ikerd gave at Iowa state about one month ago. By clicking on the link you can find audio of the lecture, notes from the lecture, and an interview Mr. Ikerd did on Iowa Public radio. Mr. Ikerd is a retired professor, who still holds a position at the University of Missouri, an author, and of course a lecturer.

I have not had a chance to listen to the entire lecture yet (or read the notes), but I have listened to the radio interview and Mr. Ikerd has quite a few things to say on the issue of family farming. In fact I loved his definition. It basically goes like this ... a family farm is a farm where the family and the farm are an inseperable part of the whole. The farm would be different without the family, and the family would be different without the farm. That is a pretty interesting definition if you take time to really think about it. He also brought out the point that a family farm needs to be an important part of the community and not harm the community. Food for thought in the state of Iowa...

This quote from Mr. Ikerd is a good summary of much of his lecture and the radio interview:

We live times of growing uncertainty regarding the future of our economy, our society, and of humanity. These uncertainties are all symptoms of the same basic cause: our unrealistic demands on an unsustainable economy. Some have suggested biofuels as a solution to the twin challenges of fossil energy depletion and global warming. However, the greatest challenge for agriculture will be to feed more people better with less fossil energy. The food security of any nation depends on the willingness and ability of its farmers to take care of its land and to care for its people. The future of humanity of in these uncertain times depends on the thoughtful, caring, and committed people who choose to live and work on family farms.

The word "sustainable" pops up a lot in his vocabulary, and I think he has a lot of great things to say and things for us to think about. Of course I don't agree with everything, but that is just to be expected! One thing that I took away is the importance of stewardship ... I think stewardship and sustainability go hand in hand and that comes out in his words and works.

If you have the time I encourage you to check out the radio interview or the lecture. Also, I would love to hear your thoughts on his ideas...

4 comments:

Rich said...

I once read a bureaucratic USDA-type definition of "Family Farm", and discovered that politicians and bureaucrats didn't consider either of my grandfathers' farms as "Family Farms". For example, if your farm was slightly bigger than the local average, if your farm hired outside labor, if the majority of your farm was rented, or if you didn't live on the farm you weren't a "Family Farm". It was an unworkable definition that applied to very few. But, politicians and bureaucrats continually use terms like "Family Farms" to try to convince people that they are the only ones truly concerned with the future of agriculture.

It is amazing that "experts" always focus on subjects like helping the community, improving the family life, and stewardship of the land. Somehow improving the community, family, and land will ensure the future of agriculture and our food security. But they always ignore the simple fact that food security will only be provided if farmers can be consistently profitable. Being profitable doesn't mean that I will be stripping every bit of fertility from my farm, in fact it means the opposite, profitability will make it both easier and more desirable to maintain the fertility.

I don't think I am being greedy if I think I deserve to make a profit for my labor. But it seems that, many "Family Farm" advocates always seem to equate profit with greed, and if they can't see the difference, I always question the other conclusions they make.

Sea2Shore said...

Enlightening lecture, I have to say that I do agree with him on alot of what he refers to with the economy. Our family does not like to rely on our goverment to provide for us, taking to much of a gamble in our opinion. We believe we are to recieve the fruits of our labor. His references on the family hold some truth. Just working out at the farm for the short time we have been doing it has brought us so much closer. There were a few things I don't agree with in the lecture, but as you said that is to be expected.
Regina

Ethan Book said...

I had a chance to listen to the lecture today ... I've gotta say that I liked the radio interview better! The first hour of the lecture focuses a lot on energy, global warming, and all that is bad (as he thinks) with our environmental outlook.

But, the last half-hour of the lecture was fairly interesting and is where he speaks more about sustainability and farming. I also love what he says about the US being able to produce our food. I think we have really fallen behind in the production of our own food in the US. Here I am in Iowa, a state that should be able to produce everything that I can eat, and yet we ships stuff in from all over the country and the world.

Lots to disagree with, but lots to think about...

Steven said...

Speaking of food from far away.....

My family does www.thegrocerygame.com each week. It is a website that helps you come up with a grocery list by showing you sales and coupons that overlap for MAXIMUM savings! So you're always buying different things... you basically pick things that you like out of a huge list of things that are on their weekly list and usually stock up on things.
Well, this week we got some peaches in a jar, I think it was Dole peaches. They were a good deal, and taste great, but while opening the jar I saw printed, in the same text as the "good until date", "Peaches From China". I couldn't believe that I was eating peaches that had traveled about as far as you could imagine to get to my fork! Needless to say we won't be buying more of those. It really makes me wonder how the economics work out in Dole's favor to ship food that far.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...