Bo Stone, his wife Missy, and his parents jointly own P & S Farms in Rowland, North Carolina. He represents the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance as one of its Faces of Farming and Ranching. Follow our Farmers with Issues series for more perspective from people out in the field.
It’s just before 7:00am. I’m pulling on my boots to step onto the fields of our family farm. The sun is rising, casting a pale glow across the land, making the warming frost sparkle. I love this part of my day. I walk out to the middle of the field and look over my crops.
I am proud of the corn, wheat and soybeans we grow on my 2,300-acre family farm. We grow sweet corn and strawberries to sell at the roadside market and also raise hogs and cows. And I feel good about the role we play in food production in our community and well beyond.
Yet many people choose to attack me when they say big farms are bad. They say I’m doing something wrong, but they’ve never stepped foot on my farm. It is time for farmers of all sizes to stand up and tell consumers how it really works on farms of all sizes. And stop the attacks.
We often get asked how big our farm is, and my usual answer is: "Why does it matter?"
I ask this because I love the blank stare I get as a response. What is more important, I say, is what we provide. We grow corn, wheat and soybeans and raise animals. We do it with care. We help provide access to fresh, real food that helps people eat well. My father and grandfather walked this farm the same way I do each day as the sixth generation to farm our land.
Big or small, what’s the difference? In America, the discussions around food have moved further away from the heart of the matter - growing healthy food - and more toward finding ways to divide us.
Organic vs conventional, GMO vs non-GMO, “factory farm” vs small community farm - at the end of the day, there’s an important place for ALL farming. It might be surprising to know that large family farms (sometimes called “industrial farms” by some) often have the most innovative sustainability practices, cutting edge animal care programs and higher regulatory hurdles. Big is not bad.
In America, there are 2.2 million farms. The average size of these farms? Just 418 acres. An acre, by comparison, equates to a little less than a 100-yard long American football field. Small family farms, which average about 231 acres, make up a surprising 88% of farms in America. On the other end, large or very large family farms - usually consisting of anywhere from 1,400 to 2,000-plus acres - make up roughly 8%. Not what you expected, right?
Farming is also a family business. Despite common misperceptions, 95 percent of American farms - both large and small - are family-owned and operated.
When I talk with my friends who have big and small farms, we are more similar than we are different. We both work to grow food because we want to deliver a healthy, affordable, sustainably-produced option for people. We both worry about planting season, and drought, and early frost. We share tips and ways we’ve overcome the same challenges.
In order to offer healthy choices for all Americans, we need all types of farms: big and small, organic and conventional, rural and urban. And if being a so-called “industrial farmer” means being part of creating healthy food solutions, then I’m all in - every day and twice on Sundays.
Late October is harvest season, World Food Day, World Poverty Day, and Food Day here in the U.S.. It's a season of action and awareness around food. These observances are moments in time that ask people to ‘stand up’ for real food. Seasons like this make me even prouder that I do the work I do.
How do I plan to stand up for real food? By inviting anyone who wishes to contact me and talk about what we do, what we grow and how we grow it with care and pride. And the next time you hear, read or say the words “industrial farm,” please think about the people behind that farm, and the food they produce.