Family Farmers Creating Resilience in the Food System

From foodtank.com, by Sarah Small
Family Farmers Creating Resilience in the Food System

The keynote address for panel on family farming came from Brian Halweil, editor of Edible East End, co-publisher of Edible Brooklyn and Edible Manhattan magazines, and Food Tank Board Member. Halweil remarked on the loss of food system resilience. He defined resilience as the ability to “avoid, tolerate, and recover” from breakdowns in the system. “We need to build back the resilience of our food system at scale,” said Halweil.

Panel moderator Jane Black is an award-winning food writer for the Washington Post and she launched this session with a question for all the panelists: “What IS a family farm?”

Coach Mark Smallwood, Executive Director at the Rodale Institute asked, “What is a farmer?” With industrial farming’s increasing reliance on genetic modification and chemistry, Smallwood kept the answer simple: “Being a farmer is about biology. Healthy soil, healthy food, healthy people. That’s OUR organic farmer.”

Organic farmer, nutrition educator, and FRESHFARM Market’s co-executive director Bernie Prince offered her definition of a farmer as “someone who is intimately connected with the farm.” While farming can be an economic opportunity, Prince spoke to the difficulty emerging farmers face gaining access to capital and farmland.

Tom Pesek, the North American representative for the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), defined one of the signature features of a family farm: small. “If we take into consideration that approximate 30 percent of the global population works on farms that are five acres or smaller,” he said, “size does matter.”

Chandler Goule said that in his work as Senior Vice President of Programs for National Farmers Union, his definition of a family farm is driven by the more than 200,000 family farms he represents. Goule clarified that many corporate farms are also family farms. “We’re not against corporate farming - what we don’t like is industrialized farming.” Goule also defined the challenges of federal crop insurance: “We need more voices from consumers to get farm tax credits passed.”

National Family Farm Coalition’s Kathy Ozer asked, “Who is in control of the decisions?” Family farms and farmers are defined by their independence to make on-farm decisions for themselves. The struggle for most of these small-to-mid size farmers is equitable access to agricultural markets. “If farmers don’t have a fair pricing system, if they aren’t getting paid what they need to get paid, then they are vulnerable.”

Eric Hansen, federal policy director of the National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC), said that young people leave their farming communities to find better opportunities elsewhere. The challenge is to support legislation that levels the playing field for independent farm operations.

Written by Melissa Terry, Food Tank Volunteer