Throughout this series, we have taken a deep dive into how we make decisions, how our programs fit into our mission and why we continue to choose to center advocacy as part of our theory of change (see previous blog posts). But all of this work isn’t relevant unless we have a clear picture of who we serve. Our organization is named Friends of Family Farmers, but who is Oregon’s Family Farmer in 2021? We hope to answer that question and help all of you who love what we do see yourselves in our work.
Defining “Family Farmers”
The words Family Farm can evoke a certain, basic image: A group of blood-related people working the land over many generations. This isn’t necessarily true for all the farmers we work with. While we do have many folks in our network who farm with their (given) families, we also have many folks who farm with a partner, with their chosen family, or all on their own. We have folks who have been farming for many decades and are part of farming (given) families, but we have a lot of folks that are in their first decade of agricultural production and have created their own farming family. We know that folks come to farming for many different reasons and on many different journeys. Our work is not focused on how you got here, but on how you contribute to the food system on whatever your path you are on. That’s why when we say “Family Farm” we mean farms that are on the other side of the spectrum from corporate agribusiness based on their practices, values, and vision of success.
*Active Participation in the Farm* – First of all, the most uniting factor of our farmers is that they are the ones doing the farming. The folks in our networks and programs aren’t investors or silent partners, they are the ones getting up early, pulling on their boots and doing what needs to be done. The farmers that we work with sometimes do have crews helping them (often their farming family!), but many are also doing it on their own or cooperatively with a group of equally invested farm partners. The folks we serve are actively involved in the everyday decisions and actions that build into whole farm management.
While we are not a farm worker union like our partners over at PCUN, we also include farm workers in our definition of farmer. If you work for a farm or have dreams of someday managing or owning your own, the work we do still affects your options and chances of success. Anyone who is actively participating in the Oregon food system and aligns with our values is our constituent, even if you are not the farm owner.
*Environmental Sustainability* – Our farmers know the value of natural resources. They know by respecting the interconnectedness of air, water, and soil resources they can not only ensure there is viable, healthy farmland for years to come, but also that healthy ecosystems produce healthy, nutritious, and delicious food. By having a commitment to the long term health of the land they steward through things like chemical reduction/elimination, protecting buffer zones, strategic or no tillage, and attention to soil health, our farmers know that they can create a more climate resilient, naturally productive, and circular ecosystem that will benefit their business and community for years to come.
Our farmers believe deeply that it is time to address climate change in agriculture. With water availability becoming less predictable, more severe weather events damaging farm infrastructure, herds and fields, and general shifts in the climate changing expectations on what and how much Oregon farmers can grow, it has become too serious to ignore. This comes out as a top issue in our farmer survey biennium over biennium and continues to be a focus of our work.
We want to make it clear that we do not believe that certifications are the end all, be all of defining a farmers values. They are a powerful business tool to hold producers to accountability standards, open new markets, and make promises to their customers, but not being certified organic or animal welfare approved does not mean that those values aren’t held by the farmer. We work with many organic certified farmers and we are a proud member of the Oregon Organic Coalition, but we do not think it is the only way to value environmental sustainability in a farming practice. When we fight for more resources on the state level for organic producers, we know that those resources (especially educational opportunities and OSU Extension specialists) will also help uncertified farmers who appreciate the environmental benefits of organic production.
*Animal Welfare* – The farmers in our network believe that animals are a wonderful part of the food and farm system, and they contribute most to the farm system (and produce the best quality farm products!) when they are living in a way that connects them to the land and open air of the farm system. From our Oregon Pasture Network, which promotes and expands pasture based animal agriculture in Oregon, to our work with the Stand Up to Factory Farms Coalition, our farmers value our work that not only fights instances of harmful animal agribusiness, but lifts up producers who incorporate scale appropriate animal production into their farms.
We know that when it comes to animal agriculture, the harm does not come from the cow, but rather the “how.” Our farmers raise animals to contribute to their farm fertility, with multi-species rotational grazing plans, and to provide good meat, dairy, and egg choices to their communities. That’s why we are proud to have many diversified and animal farmers in our network.
*Social Responsibility and Equity* – The farmers we represent know that we live in a world where everyone does not start with the same advantages. This translates to the way that they decide to do their business, from higher wages for farm crew members and adhering to farm worker protections from OSHA, to making sure that they are good neighbors in their community. Many of our farmers also provide training programs on their farms to help educate and advance farm technical knowledge in their communities.
Like Friends of Family Farmers, our farmers also acknowledge the racist past of land tenure and access to agriculture in our state and across the nation. We center equity in our work through supporting the policies and initiatives of our BIPOC led partners, providing culturally specific technical assistance in our Farm Link Program, and applying an equity lens to our programs and decision making. We made a conscious pivot toward equity not only because it is the right thing to do for food sovereignty for all Oregonians, but also because our base of farmers wanted us to. We are so proud to be led by the farmers of our community who understand this work needs to be done and will continue to help level the playing field for BIPOC farmers because our liberation is all bound up together.
*Small Business Viability and Rural Economic Development* – Our farmers are not wealthy folks. The average income of our farmers from their farm enterprise is $65,000 according to our 2020 Family Farm Survey. This means that the vast majority of our farmer supporters fall into the USDA category of “Small Farms” which is defined by $250,000 or less in annual sales. As discussed above, our farmers value community and the environment in addition to their bottom line, but they also know that the impact of their good management lasts only as long as they, or other farmers like them, steward that land. If small farms fail, their land is vulnerable to development or conglomeration by outside investors. Many of our farmers have one person in their household with an off farm job to keep themselves financially secure while providing food for their community.
This is why we pursue policies that give more stable financial footing to our small farms. By alleviating the cost burden of production and regulation, we can give our small farms a better shot at making it long term. This also revitalizes rural communities around the state. We all know there is an urban rural divide when it comes to services, resources, and access to the basics that people need to thrive. By supporting more of these small farms, we keep more tax revenue, jobs, and farm adjacent industries in our communities. The farmers we serve live and work outside of Oregon’s city centers and want those communities to be great places to live.
*Community Support* – Our farmers value and need the support of their communities. They tend to sell into local markets, whether that be through a CSA program, farmstands and U-Picks, at the farmers market, or to local grocery stores and restaurants. This means they are invested in the community and want to serve the folks they call neighbors. They want to grow the food their community wants to eat, and show them how their growing practices align with their values. Our farmers value opportunities to give back and have asked us for information on how to safely donate to food banks or connect with mutual aid programs in their area. This community oriented nature might translate to open farm days, giving talks to school kids or civic groups, participating in community festivals and being present in their community through civic engagement. We are proud that our farmers invest not only their dollars, but also their time and relationships in their communities.
Does this sound like you or someone you know?
If you are reading this post and thinking “Wow, this sounds like why I love farming,” then you may be a FoFF Farmer! Our work benefits all farmers who align with the values above, not just those who directly engage with us, but the more you get involved, the more you can direct our efforts toward what your community needs most. Join in with us today and raise your voice.
- Join the email list and never miss an important alert. Be sure to add your address when you sign up if you want location specific alerts. Some of the campaigns we work on are about a specific community so we zero in on the folks most affected. Without your address in our records you will only get statewide alerts.
- Join as a FoFF Member. If you want to support our work and invest in the future we hope to create together, consider becoming a FoFF member. Your endorsement of our work helps us build power, gives us the resources we need to keep working, and it comes with some great perks for you.
- Be an ambassador for FoFF in your community. If you love our work, we would love for you to tell us how it plays out in your life. Please contact Alice Morrison (email@example.com) to schedule an interview to talk about how FoFF’s work is necessary and visible in your area or to get any questions answered.