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Why Does My Son Think Farms Look the Same?

I was talking to my son about farms last night and he told me "Mom, all farms have a barn, a silo, and animals."

Looking out our front door at our farm, which does not include any of those things, I replied, "We have a farm and we don't have a barn, a silo, or animals."

He then looked at me and replied, with the logic of a 5-year old, "Well, where is our farm?”

From the time he was born, my son has spent time at the farm. He has ridden in the tractors during planting, helped drive the combine to pick wheat, corn, and soybeans, and visited the field when sweet potatoes were dug. He has watched tractors working the fields around our house. He has spent many a night at the tobacco barns while my husband was checking the progress of curing crop. How could he not realize he lived on a farm?

It didn’t take me long to realize where this farm kid gets his view of what a farm should look like. That night, as we read his bedtime story, I read about a farm that had a pen of pigs, a pasture of cows, a field of sheep, a coop of hens, and one tractor stored in a red barn.  

I started pulling all the books that had anything to do with farms off his bookshelf and the theme continued. They all represented the nostalgic view of agriculture.

It’s not just his story books. We were watching a cartoon and the episode featured a farm that looked like those in his storybooks with one exception – the farmer was female. Commercials, movies, marketing promotions – most embrace the “Old MacDonald” way of farming.

I realize some current-day farms retain the all-purpose look of the farm my dad grew up on, with several types of livestock and a variety of crops. I’ve visited numerous farms that fit this description. It's great that we, as farmers, have the choice to choose what crops we grow and livestock we raise. The challenge I see is that if consumers, including my son, only see this version of farming represented, they may get the idea that any type of agriculture not fitting this romantic image is somehow wrong.

The look of farms has changed with many becoming more specialized. Farms that once included livestock and crops may now have just crops. Farms that grew multiple crops may have simplified the number of crops in their rotation. Farms may add a crop or stop growing a crop they are losing money on. Farms may be 1 acre or include thousands of acres. The look of agriculture is ever-changing, and what farms look like will continue to change. 

There are many reasons why the look of farms has and will continue to change. The reasons why and ways how are as diversified as farms themselves. I've lost count of the number of changes we've made on our farm in the last seven years, including adding GPS technology to our tractors, purchasing grain bins to dry and store grains, and adding sweet potatoes to our rotation. 

Modern agriculture may have different looking barns and bigger tractors, but that doesn’t mean today’s farmers don’t farm with the some values as our ancestors. Perhaps instead of just telling our story, we also need to write our story. I’d love for the next storybook I read my son to reflect the type of farm he is growing up on.

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