As we continue into the twenty-first century, there is little doubt that things are changing. The economy is in the gutter and right alongside it are the housing and job market. One aspect that isn’t suffering is the price of rural farmland and its harvest. What this is causing however, is for the younger generations to sell off their family farmland, which often includes family ties going back centuries. ”Instead of digging in to benefit from the boom in grain prices, the next generation is opting to cash out of the small, family owned farms that harbor centuries of rural wisdom and deep tradition.” (Huffstutter) Instead of carrying on the family farm after their parents, trends show that children are selling off these ancestral lands and moving to more urban areas away from their family. What does this do for familial ties to land and the ideals of the family farm?
CBC reporter Art Jones said in his 1986 piece entitled, What’s Happening To The Family Farm, that “Running a family farm is a lot more than just a job for most farmers. For them, the farm represents the past, the future, an identity and a way of life.” It is filled with traditions and farming know-how passed down for generations on that very same land. My own family started a large family farm in 1852 in the suburbs of Chicago, Illinois and four generations of my direct ancestors were born there. As the families got larger and larger, children purchased or were gifted a portion of the family farmland to raise their family on. These families worked hard and worked together to keep the farms growing. Their entire extended family was living on this same land. It created a tie to the land and created close familial connections within that family.
Now that these family farms are dwindling away, what happens to those family ties to the land? As the children of generations of family farmers sell off the family land and move on to more urban areas to start their lives over in a completely different manner than their ancestors, there are no ancestral and familial ties to land at all. When researching your family tree, a trip to your family land can awe you. To stand on the land or walk in the house where generations upon generations of your family have put their blood, sweat and tears can be a breathtaking experience and opportunity. It connects you to your ancestors in ways that you probably wouldn’t have thought of. People on your family tree are buried on that land. Your great-great-grandfather built that barn. Your sixth great-grandfather carved this family homestead out of the wilderness. These are things that you can only have within a place like a family farm.
This is not to say that all family farms are shutting down. Allyson Byrd’s recent article titled Family with Old Family Ties to Land…describes Kevin Gowdy’s familial ties. ”Gowdy, a lean 44-year-old, traces his heritage out here in the fields to the 1790 census and a will at the Williamsburg County courthouse dated 1805. He’s the seventh generation in his family to farm this land, and his 14-year-old son Ben hopes to become the eighth.” Some of the younger generation look forward to carrying on the family traditions and living on their family lands. This seems to be a dwindling minority however. That combined with development, corporation buy-out of farmland and the financial risks of farming, seem to be pushing these families of farmers off of their family land and into a new sort of wilderness without the connections of family or ties to the land that their ancestors had.
To read PJ Huffstutter’s article - http://news.yahoo.com/insight-iowa-farmland-boom-means-end-era-many-061539601.html
To read Allyson Bird’s article - http://www.postandcourier.com/news/2011/oct/03/threat-to-a-way-of-life/