Family Farming: A New Economic Vision

Family Farming: A New Economic Vision

Family Farming: A New Economic Vision

Family Farming: A New Economic Vision


Americans decry the decline of family farming but stand by helplessly as industrial farming takes over. The prevailing sentiment is that family farms should survive for important social, ethical, and economics reasons. But will they? Possibly not, if current policies are not altered, say Marty Strange.

This timely book exposes the biases in American farm policies that irrationally encourage expansion- a bias evident in federal commodity programs, income tax provisions, and subsidized credit services. The farm financial crisis of the 1980s is a result of this trend toward bigness. As family farms are transformed, they become more specialized, more capital-intensive, and less resilient to the inherently unstable conditions in agriculture. Financial risks are therefore greater, and public assistance to expanding farms is more frequent and costly.

Family Farming also exposes internal conflicts, particularly the conflict between the private interests of individual farmers and the public interest in family farming as a whole. It challenges the assumption that bigger is better, critiques the technological base of modern agriculture, and calls for farming practices that are ethical, economical, and ecologically sound. The alternative policies discussed in this book could yet save the family farm. And the ways and means of saving it are argued here with special urgency.


In the early 1970s I was on my way to law school at an East Coast university after having spent three years working in various antipoverty programs in Nebraska. I stopped in Walthill, Nebraska, intending to spend a few months in gainful employment at yet one more community-action program before enrolling. Within a few weeks, President Nixon had unveiled a budget that called for the elimination of the nation's War on Poverty, and of the local agency that employed me.

It was not a personal crisis for me because the money wouldn't run out until I was tucked away in school, but I was stunned by the local response. The governing board of the community-action program convened and drew up a news release announcing its regret at the president's decision and its intent to ignore his message. The War on Poverty wasn't about to end in northeast Nebraska, even if the federal commitment to it did. They would carry on, they said, with or without Mr. Nixon.

Their survival strategy involved separating their local organization into two parts. One part would continue to provide services to poor people in northeast Nebraska—meals to the elderly, preschool programs for children, and other social services. It would be funded by federal grants and contracts still available for social services.

The other part would be leaner and more political. It would take on public policy issues, especially agricultural policy issues, that struck at the root causes of rural poverty in northeast Nebraska. It . . .

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