An Article from our partners Farmers Footprint
Jacqueline Smith didn’t grow up farming. And she’s a woman. By some accounts, she has the deck stacked against her when it comes to starting a new farming business in the Midwest.
Not looking like or having the multi-generational agricultural background of a typical Midwest farmer presents challenges. But, as Smith will proudly tell you, they haven’t held her back. No, her biggest roadblock is one that faces all farmers — the sad economic state of rural America and the collapse of the family farm economy that once underpinned it.
It’s also what Smith is most passionate about changing.
Smith, 44, is making small but powerful steps toward regenerating the heartland of America. She is convinced that creating a regenerative-based, circular economy supporting farmers, soil health, natural environments and regional foodsheds is key to saving America’s heartland — its worn out commodity croplands, its dying rural communities and its desperate farmers.
Farmers can’t pursue better land management practices if they can’t pay their bills.
“We have asked our farmers to grow us food and live on poverty rate wages. So, farmers become enveloped in an idea of scarcity. It is fear-based and mind-numbing to work in the confinements of scarcity. You can’t make decisions there.” Smith says. “You can’t make decisions that protect the Earth there.”
”I am not bigger or better than anybody else in my community, in my business and in my farm. We work together to do this.”
THE QUIET COLLAPSE OF THE HEARTLAND
As she entered young adulthood, Smith made an unusual decision compared to her high school classmates —most of them moved away after graduation. But not Smith. She would stake her claim and build her life in rural America, specifically the Midwest. As a farmer.
“I felt really called to my roots here and I knew that if I didn’t create that space for me, no one was going to create it,” Smith says. “So, I started to piece it together.”
That meant piecing together the strands of a “mid-tier,” decentralized supply chain infrastructure, supporting medium-sized farm business — a system that no longer exists.
The romantic version of the bustling, small-town, midwestern communities of the 1950s and 60s has largely been extinguished. The heartland economies and rural livelihoods of the early to mid 1900s died as agriculture became consolidated and the younger generations migrated to urban centers.
Farms themselves are still generally decentralized across America. Fifty-seven percent of the food grown in the U.S. is still produced on family farms, according to the 2016 report “Family Farms of North America.” But the support structure for agriculture — the infrastructure, supply chain and farm-based services — have become deeply consolidated.
In 2012, just four large firms controlled 57% of pesticide manufacturing and the four largest firms in farm machinery accounted for half of all sales. There simply no longer exist those “mom and pop” stores and businesses, providing services and supplies for farmers’ needs, creating jobs, and stimulating economies.