UNIQUE FEATURES OF AGRICULTURE

Life-Style and Family Farms

Since colonial times, farming has been held in high regard in the United States. The continent was unsettled territory, and the primary occupation of the new settlers was farming. English traditions exerted strong influences on colonial life and agriculture: The new immigrants brought with them notions of private property, a market system, and such farming tools as plows, hoes, and harvesters. They planted wheat and vegetables from European seeds and borrowed corn and tobacco seeds from the Indians. Because land was plentiful, various domesticated animals, such as sheep, swine, cattle, and horses, were left to graze unsupervised in nearby forests. However, although the pattern in Europe was often for the farmers to live in central villages with their land holdings on the outskirts, in colonial America they lived on their individual farmsteads. This settlement pattern encouraged a reliance on family labor, plus a strong sense of independence, individualism, and personal freedom. What the colonists wanted to avoid at all costs was the feudal land tenure system where workers on farms were not the land owners. Thus, through the years, the United States has protected an almost unlimited right to buy and sell real estate, including farm land, and the freedom to work the land as owners choose (Wilkening and Gilbert, 1987).

The strong belief in "agrarianism" reached a peak in the nineteenth century. Farming was considered the most legitimate and beneficial of occupations, farmers the most moral and patriotic of citizens (Danbom, 1997). But even today, Americans believe that most farmers are the ideal citizens: They work for themselves, they control the production decisions, they are fiercely independent, and they express their opinions in the political process of voting. From focus groups with family farmers, most believe that the heritage they have gained from their great-grandparents has been passed down through the generations, along with the land; they yearn to continue their farming lineage to their children and grandchildren, even when economic times are difficult. Thus, farm families expect their children to learn the business, help with the chores from an early age, and "shadow" the same-sex parent in their farm duties. The lifestyle on many family farms maintains traditions of years past. Daily routines are directed by the farm operator (usually the father) and



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