As I sit looking out my window on this beautiful day viewing the snow-covered, harvested fields, my thoughts go to the generations before me and the generations to follow me. I acknowledge the sustainability of this family farm. I suppose my thoughts go there as we began incorporating my daughter and son-in-law into our farm business in 2018. Sometime in the next few years it will be my daughter looking out this window at the same fields. My family has now been living on this land for 144 years. Leah and Josh will be the sixth generation to become stewards of our piece of South Dakota land. My ancestors approached farming thinking about how their sons and daughters could continue the family business. Our business plan has always included thoughts towards the how, when and even if the next generation will farm. How short-sighted would it be for a family farmer to consider only one year of crop yield or even only what would happen for their generation of farming? A successful family business that spans generations needs to look to the future by being good stewards in the present.
What is it that about a family farm that often spans multiple generations? How are they successful in maintaining that business? What did our ancestors do right so we are still here providing a service to the world by raising food? I see our successful family farm business as having what Dr. Craig Aronoff outlines in an article about successful family businesses.
1. A sense of family vision, values and goals. There is an often-unspoken vision for turning over the farm to the next generation in better condition than you received it. This is shown in objectives like improving soil health, new ventures to diversify the farming business, and conservation practices like the terraces my dad and husband have added to our property. Some family farms have goals written like my friend and fellow dietitian and family farmer, Jennie Schmidt who writes about their farm goal, "to maximize value per acre producing safe, high quality foods, while preserving and improving our soils and sustaining the family farm for the next generation."
2. Allowing individual family members to choose freely to participate in the business and ownership status. In my generation, it was understood that we were going to college for opportunity to choose another career over farming. In each generation, there have been family members who chose another career. We are a family who owned funeral homes, and clothing stores, and chose careers as doctors, teachers and businessmen and women. Dr. Aronoff says belonging to the family business should be more than financial return with the business "standing for something." There is a pride instilled in my family and most farming families I have met. Some of that pride is in the knowledge that you chose the family farm over other opportunities and you are part of the next successful generation.
3. Sense of responsibility to something larger than one's self. There is a sense of responsibility beyond one's self as a farmer looks to the future of the business for the next generation. However, the knowledge you are raising food for others brings the major sense of responsibility for something larger. We can look beyond our life here in South Dakota knowing our corn, soybeans and pork are part of the global food supply. Doing things right becomes more than just what affects your own personal life because you are responsible for raising safe, nutritious food for others.
When the marketplace uses words like "sustainable" or "responsibly farmed", I can't help but think of the 144 years of my family's "sustainable" business. Farmers are making choices every day to sustain their business and do something for the greater good, raise food that sustains life and is enjoyed by their family, their community, and around the world.