The Uncertain Future of Small Farms in America

A new family comes to a 200-year-old farm determined to make their dreams of working on a small farm into a reality.

| July 2015

  • Small Farm Crops
    “For more than two hundred years, our farm had been sustained by love and necessity, but much had changed since the first seeds had sprouted, hesitantly raising their leaves among the stumps of a forest clearing.”
    Photo by Fotolia/LoloStock
  • Birth Death and a Tractor
    Trace the history of one small farm from the early 18th century to present day in “Birth, Death, and a Tractor.”
    Cover courtesy Down East Books

  • Small Farm Crops
  • Birth Death and a Tractor

It is time we remembered the way farms once were.  Birth, Death, and a Tractor: Connecting an Old Farm to a New Family (Down East Books, 2015),by Kelly Payson-Roopchand, is the story of a small family farm in Somerville, Maine, from its setting in the early 1800s to its perilous transfer to a new farm family in 2008. Chronicling the history of seven generations, it is a reminder of the role small farms have played in our national and family histories, and a challenge to find innovative ways to reconnect our communities to this rich but threatened resource. This excerpt, which tells the story of a family working on the farm in present day, is from the section, “September 2009: The End of the Road.”

To find more books that pique our interest, visit the Utne Reader Bookshelf.

Facing The End of the Road

It is morning, and I come downstairs, one-year-old Keiran riding on my hip. Already impatient to be outside, he wiggles as I put on his shoes. He is almost independent, needing my hand for balance but otherwise impatiently tugging, a fish desperate to escape the line. As we step over the threshold, he pauses, his hand quiet in mine, looking around at the day. Like all good farmers, he starts each day by taking stock . . .

Nestled in a bowl of trees, our farm is a breathtaking remnant of a six-generation family farm, connected to the outside world by a mile of dirt road. Old apple trees line the road, their branches as twisted and forlorn as the tumbled stone walls below, yet each spring they coax forth an abundance of flowers, and each fall they make a brave offering of nameless apples. Most are small and sour, probably cider apples, but to my son they are a treasure for the picking. “Ap, ap,” he entreats, pulling me toward the tempting fruit. I hoist him into the tree, supporting him with my belly, once again swelling with new life.

Successful in his quest, Keiran holds an apple aloft, then points to the goat pen where Manley, our Nubian buck, is pacing in anticipation. A big goat, Manley’s head is level with mine when he jumps onto the gate, and caution tempers Keiran’s excitement as he holds the apple out. Straining forward, Manley mouths the entire apple, trying to find an entry into its smooth slickness.

While Keiran admires Manley, I watch the female goats, safely separated from their ardent suitor. Aligned along the barn ramp, the does bask in the morning sun, their coats shining: the multicolored Nubians with their roman noses and floppy ears, and the glistening white Saanens, their noses dished and ears erect. Heedless of the wet grass soaking his soft leather shoes, Keiran toddles to the rail to inspect the herd. Pulling himself up on tiptoe, he peers over the rail, resting his cheek on the graying board. Together we are quiet, humans and goats, enjoying the view.

7/31/2015 11:15:59 AM

I never go to supermarkets or COSTCO for food- they are big agriculture's cesspool of death. Every Thursday and sometimes Saturday, I go to the Farmers' Markets in Northern VA (Fairfax and Loudon Counties) and buy my week's worth of produce or chicken products.I even go to an orchard to pick my fruit during the summer months. I have seen many more people use these markets. People go to big ag's showrooms because they are lazy and want convenience. 1/3 of men 17-24 can not go into the military because they are too fat. We never had these problems until soybean oil replaced all cooking oils and GMO Corn were introduced. Check the contents of items such as corn chips, potato chips. The Congress has now passed a law for food vendors so they do not have to tell you if there are GMO ingredients in your food.

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