What is farming?

Farming is the act of raising crops and livestock.  When people  think about traditional farming, they usually have visions of barns, tractors, irrigation equipment and a guy in a flannel shirt and a straw hat. They may have images of fields of wheat and barley blowing in the wind or big rows of corn and gigantic harvesters. Although this may still be true in certain cases, a lot has changed over the years.

Why is farming important?

Farms, farming and farmers are crucial to our society. There are a lot of misconceptions about them. It is extremely important that we understand who the farmers are in both traditional and modern sense so that we can build better compassion and improve our communities for the future. Farmers are some of the most hard-working people on the planet. They have to deal with major issues on a regular basis such as policy changes, regulations, tariffs, weather, pandemics and other unforeseen issues. Getting people interested in farming has never been more important than today. There seems to be some intrigue in the idea of farming.

We can study the evolution of traditional farming and then really look into what the future of farming and farms could look like.  It can be a fascinating experience to explore the aspects of our food systems and work towards food security. By looking into it, we may be able to understand how we can build better health equity and harmony among rural and urban communities. We can provide information and technology that can lead to more efficient land use, conserve water resources, and increase farm yields and distributions.  The agriculture industry is ripe for innovation. We can find ways to support farmers, reduce pollution, improve soil quality, protect biodiversity and reduce food waste while providing opportunities to encourage farming communities.  There are a lot of education opportunities in the ever evolving field of farms and farming. With a better understanding, we can all evolve together.

What is a farm?

A farm is the actual land or location where crops or livestock are being raised. Again, many people still have the perception of small, family farms or large industrial farms with tractors you might find in a Norman Rockwell painting . The truth is, small, family farms have been disappearing at a rapid pace over the last century.  There are a number of different types of farms. Some are out in the country while others are in cities.

New inventions and technologies are being developed that could completely change what we think of when it comes to farming and develop sustainable food systems.

Types of Farming?

In the traditional sense, people usually think of three types: arable, pastoral, and mixed farms.  Arable farms grow crops. Pastoral farms raise livestock. Mixed farms do a little of both. These scenarios have also evolved in many different ways.

Family farms of the past were often subsistence farms that grew food to sustain their family and/ or the local community. Sometimes farmers from the same area would purposely grow different crops so that they could supplement one another. These were the ones depicted in the Norman Rockwell paintings.

Large scale plantations of the past grew cash crops often using inhumane, forced labor.  These produced cash crops like: sugar, tobacco, rice, indigo and cotton which made huge fortunes for the owners and provided states with the capital to build world dominance such as the British Empire and the United States.

Tenant farming and sharecropping grew in the USA in the 19th and 20th century. Landowners leased sections of their property to laborers and shared in the profits and crops that were produced. This system did not always work well for the farmers who could be subject to abuse and eviction depending on the agreement..  Today, there are stricter laws the regulate and protect the rights of tenants and landlords in most developed countries..

Industrial farms revolutionized production by using heavy equipment and advanced technology that soon mass produced crops on a scale that could not be matched by smaller farms. Many industrial farms still produce cash crops like cotton, although other cash crops like hemp and cannabis have recently become very popular.  It is interesting to note that many industrial farms produce hay and corn for animal feed and biofuels.

Today, farming practices such as slash and burn agriculture and industrial animals farms are having a heavy impact on the environment and water resources through deforestation and displacement of wildlife habitat. The use of pesticides and fertilizer are causing pollution, reducing biodiversity and may be responsible for massive algae blooms and fish kills.  Addressing these issues has been difficult, as farmers in rural communities often feel alienated by the environmental groups and urban elites.  There needs to be empathy and understanding to come up with workable solutions to build sustainable food systems that benefit farmers, society, and the environment. Everyone can play a part and must realize we are all in this together.

Regenerative agriculture has been growing throughout the world in the last century, with nearly 50% in Australia. Organic farms use methods that restrict the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers and use thoughtful farming practices such as crop rotation, no-till farming, terrace farming, and permaculture to produce crops while minimizing the environmental impact.  Organic farmers have to go through exhaustive scrutiny and are internationally regulated on standards generally set by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM).  Because of the difficulty of obtaining and maintaining certifications and restrictions for dealing with the naturally occurring issues of farming, many farmers don’t bother with the certification.  Still, there is growing demand for organic farms and the crops they produce.

Urban farming and community farms have become popular in urban centers.  There have been incredible innovations in fields such as hydroponics, vertical gardens, green roofs, indoor gardening, and aquaponics food production systems being done in urban settings.  These farms not only provide food, they also provide education, community building, and improvements to physical and mental health.

There are breakthroughs in farming technology happening every day that may revolutionize our image of the farms and farmers and lead us towards more sustainable food systems.

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