Vol. I, No. 1, Summer 1987


A Team of Horses and a
Wagon .... Family Farm Basics

by J. N. Smith

At the turn of the century, Ozarks rural life was made up primarily of families that derived their livings through the nurture of crops and livestock on small land areas. The entity of the family farm was the foundation for a single family's standard of living. The family farm is still important in today's Ozarks.

According to Ozarks tradition, as a young couple considered marriage, parents provided the basics for the start of the couple's family farm. In one family's practice, this included a team of horses, a wagon, a milk cow, a sow and 25 laying hens. These basic resources allowed the new family to establish an income base for its living standard as they it to become self - sufficient. The steps up the ladder of success often included rental of land on which to bring about farm production. Savings derived from the sale of produce allowed for expansion of production resources. Through time they would bo able to save a down payment for the purchase of a parcel of land. In addition to providing for current family needs, the ultimate aim of family farmers was to utilize savings to build equity in their land and eventually become debt free. The total accumulation resulted in building ii retirement nest egg as well as providing a start for tho new families of each child.

The 1907 Joseph Goetz farm is vastly different from today's farming operations. Photograph courtesy of the Museum Ozarks.
As an institution, the family farm in the Ozarks has created a standard of productivity envied around the world. The size of family farms has grown significantly by just about any measure -- acres utilized, production quantities sold, capital invested or technology utilized. Since the family itself is the major source of labor and management for the family farm, the economic welfare of the farm family is directly tied to the ability of the family lo make the best use of its own resources. Therefore, the amount and effectiveness of labor provided to the farm business by each family member is especially important. Also, the opportunity to accumulate and utilize one's own capital investment requires effective decision - making to realize favorable results.

Given the soil, climate and topography of the Ozarks, farmers have discovered that the best use of the land is in tile production of forage crops and some grain crops that are utilized by various types of livestock, including beef cattle, dairy cattle and sheep. These enterprises maintained on family farms are providing the income base for the population. Local businesses and governmental agencies have developed their products and services to meet the needs of these types of productive enterprises. The growth of the region's economic base has been primarily dependent on the success of the family farm.

As the Ozarks economic environment continues to develop by increased productive efforts in the service and recreation areas, employment opportunities are growing for farm family labor to be effectively utilized in off - farm positions on a part - time basis. This non - farming employment allows for the utilization of the seasonal surplus labor when farm activities are not so demanding, while the additional income provides for a higher and more continuous income flow than otherwise would be possible. The continuing infusion of technology into the farming operations permits these family farms to provide greater quantities of food commodities with less labor input, while adding to the productive capacity of the off - farm sector.

As the population grows and the number of people per unit of space becomes greater, more people are giving attention to maintaining the quality-of-life factors that have been so important in the family farm setting. These factors include an environment in which individuals can direct their own efforts toward realizing self - determined goals with varying degrees and definitions of success. The opportunity to invest in ownership of the continually shrinking farmland area is exciting, challenging and rewarding. Equally important in the minds of many parents and grandparents is the opportunity to make an

investment in the character, understanding and experiences of a young generation to be raised on family farms. With only 2 percent of the present national population having actual farm experience, the proportion of our people who have any direct contact with the production of our food supply, the population's primary need, is very small.

The family farm continues to be a strong influence in the region's economy. The mixture of resource use, both off - and on - farm, brings about more stability of income and greater flexibility of family contributions while maintaining specific farm experiences and values.

J. N. Smith is Professor of Agriculture at SMSU. He is a native Ozarker, operates his own family farm, and was recently named Agriculturalist of the Year by the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce.

Copyright -- OzarksWatch

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