Among the many problems with how we feed ourselves today and the business of agriculture in general is how we rromanticize the idea of a family farmer.
This is really Same Same But Different. Family farms of today bear little resemblance to family farms of the past.
Most peopledon’t realize just how hard it was to support yourself in an agrarian economy.
At the turn of the century, such laments were entirely common. Commentators rarely looked out on rural families and communities as models of propriety, chastity, and virtue. Instead, they saw distressing disorder. The Social Gospel activist Josiah Strong captured the sentiment best in 1893. Observing the chaotic churn of populations in and out of rural communities, Strong announced he could “see no reason why isolation, irreligion, ignorance, vice and degradation should not increase in the country until we have a rural peasantry, illiterate and immoral, possessing the rights of citizenship, but utterly incapable of performing or comprehending its duties.” He called this endemic “degeneration and demoralization” in rural areas, and he prescribed a hearty reordering of rural family life as a tonic.
By the 1930s, officials at the Department of Agriculture, the CES’s parent agency, bragged that 4-H clubs were teaching millions of rural youth how to build stable families in the countryside, families that fit the gendered order and social stability we only now impute to family farms. In fact, it was only at this moment in American history that the term “family farm” itself emerged as a celebratory ideal, and it did so primarily in the context of government officials and their allies’ rallying the public to reform rural family life.