Katie Barber Copper Hills High School Jordan School District email@example.com Essay Submission The Family Farm in Mountain Communities: Contest 2014 “The Intermountain West’s Condensing Farm Culture” “It’s very honorable, very honorable to raise food for the American people and the world. I take a lot of pride in that and I consider it a strong privilege to live in the lifestyle and the community I do live in. There should not be a trade-off, though, to have that wonderful lifestyle and that honorable profession and trade that off for economic opportunity.” Here, a rancher from La Jara, Colorado, Armando Valdez, talks about the lower income and the competition that family farms must battle in order to survive. Neighboring Utah, families in mountainous states such as Colorado, Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana reflect the communities that for so long have been a symbol of American culture. Increasingly, however, family farms as economic cornerstones are shrinking in importance in rural areas. Concentration is becoming a reoccurring theme found in the agriculture industry, appearing in both the physical land and economic systems- urban sprawl, or “suburban creep,” in Utah is manifesting at an alarming rate, forcing family farms to rethink their previously steadfast systems, while the environment absorbs negative impact. Consolidation inside the growing industrial sector of agriculture often finds family farms in the Intermountain West at the mercy of large-scale industry giants. Today, small family farmers often have to choose between adopting modern ways of farming, giving up the methods that have served for generations, or face the concentration that has enveloped the industry, which often lead to farms’ demise. The compression of family farms due to urban sprawl and its ripple effects in the Intermountain West’s economy and environment warrants the examination of family farming’s meaning and future in Utah.
Part I: The Value of Family Farming While areas all over the world are losing cultural foundations that were grounded in agriculture, the Intermountain West is one region in particular where family farms have been deteriorating all together. From 1999 to 2010, the average size farm in Utah decreased 79 acres, and the number of farms had been reduced by 1,100 to 16,600. According to one study based on responses of Utah family farmers, small farms have been proven to preserve a sense of local heritage and character- the family tradition has provided connections between success, work, and cultural heritage, while contributing to environmental conservation. Unfortunately, concentration
in Utah has prevented many of these things from continuing, and even stopped the family agrarian tradition altogether. Too often, farms become tokens for capitalization and mechanization to larger, industry giants. Once this happens, family farms tend disappear quickly. Preserving the way of life that once served ninety percent of the American public must become a priority in Utah. Family farms have the ability to control water, energy, and natural habitats with their continued existence, maintaining systems that have since become highly competitive, in a much more sustainable way. This competition, including the competition for land, threatens western producers’ livelihoods. One livestock farmer in Range, Montana compared the life of a farmer bought out by industrial competition as “a serf on his own land.” If the trends in consolidation and urbanization continue, Utah could see this exact same event echoed, possibly leading to the end of family farms completely.
Part II: Urban Sprawl’s Impacts The growth of cities and suburbs is depriving rural areas- between 1977 and 2006, almost four square miles of land in the Salt Lake Valley was converted to suburban land use from agricultural production. This is a trend that will continue through farmland: the land that once could host crops sustainably and effectively is also the land most attractive to developers. Verl Cook of Vineyard, Utah has lost 40 acres of land to the widening of a highway. He has run a family farm for 100 years, and in the more recent of those, he’s had to stand by as the city takes more and more of his land away for development. One study shows of Utah’s Jordan River Basin, at the current rate of urban expansion, agriculture will be non-existent by 2030. The effect of urban sprawl on Utah family farms is long reaching. Between altered migration patterns and the push of animals out of their previous habitats, the loss of livestock to predators is one of farmers’ largest problems. Unfortunately, the problem works both ways. If a farmer is driven out
of business by predators and other factors, their land is divided and sold- and most likely to developers. This in turn creates a problem for these predators, as America loses over one million acres due to urban sprawl. These displacement parallels between environment and man can be traced back more than a century ago, as the westward boom in 1905 caused the Sierra Nevada Mountain’s Paiute Indians in Western Nevada to migrate as their primary source of water was diverted for use in a government irrigation project. Water has always been compared to gold in the mountainous desert areas like Utah, and Lake Mead has served as a primary source in the area. However, with a projected fifty percent chance that the lake could run dry by 2021, Utah’s allocated eleven percent of the lake is competition between Nevada. This is hurting Utah’s family farms, like one ranch that supplies thirty five percent of the beef to a religious welfare system. Going North, the Bear Lake River used to supply Cache county in Utah and 25% farmers in Idaho has sent farmers to the point of salvaging crops early to save some of their investments due to lack of water. With urbanization comes a high price to pay both for suburban populations and family farmers. Land and water distribution between farmers and the growing population must become a higher priority in Utah, as the concentration of industry already causes business losses between the low amounts of family farmers.
Part III: Closing the Gap on Competition Concentration, whether found in the loss of land and water, or in the economy, creates enormous hardship for family farmers. Paralleling the effects of urbanization, the pooling of industry giants often costs family farmers their livelihoods. One problem occurring nationwide is the concentration of processes through vertical integration. Industry giants are moving at an excruciatingly fast rate to control every aspect of agriculture- one highly scrutinized form of these remaining “factory farms.” These factory farms turn into one-stop-shop raised, processed,
and packaged animal product warehouses. Because these corporations are able to cut out middle men and those who have traditionally subsisted on income from the raising of livestock and crops, competition in the industry decreases. Without competition, industry leaders are able to raise prices. The small amount of family farmers producing for these larger corporations increasingly earn less and less of the consumer dollar. This is a serious threat to Utah’s family farms and their well-being. These lower prices give the opportunity of exploiting small producers to large corporations. One observation made by a researcher deems these devastating causes “anticompetitive harm.” In the long run, the “anticompetitive harm” inflicted on family farms caused by the concentration of land and production into fewer industrial leaders’ hands will establish a trend of expensive food and the deterioration of Utah’s agricultural economy. One effective way of combating the issue of large industrial concentration is Consumer Supported Agriculture: this allows labor intensive family farms to connect to a guaranteed market of consumers, where middle men are eliminated. In the highly monopolized industry that the agricultural sector has become, it is extremely important that the over 130 CSA’s in Utah that constitute many of the surviving family farms remain supported, through federal aid and strong consumer bases. Concentration, caused by urbanization and industry affecting not only the economic but also the natural environment, is heavily engrained in Utah’s agriculture. However, it is not irreversible. A slower trend in developed land and more sustainable water systems will provide growth for family farms. Developed arable land will likely be realized as mistake in Utah, as the land that linked lower prices to close-to-home consumers becomes lost, forcing the importation of food. Interrupting this development avoids those high costs of importation and will help Utah’s family farms to survive. Selling directly to consumers and increasing marketing power
through diversification of products through systems like Utah’s Consumer Supported Agriculture will challenge the restraints and monopolies encountered far too often by family farmers, helping to revive Utah’s agricultural culture. The tradition of family farming extends far beyond the Intermountain West, but its iconic symbol linked with the romanticism of America’s mountains will remain steadfast as long as concentration is addressed and the idea of “tradition” becomes synonymous with “obligation.” As mountain farmer Bill Tanner once said: “The beauty that is in this earth is something that folks appreciate and enjoy, and it doesn’t get out of style. There may not be that big hoopla over it like there is over the Internet,… and that kind of stuff, but I think when all of that’s gone, we’ll still have Tallulah Gorge, and we’ll have the Rocky Mountains…”
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