PreWWII there was Grandpa's way of running a farm. Every farm had a few cows, chickens, hogs and sheep. Horses were a mode of transportation and helped with the heavy lifting. Corn was grown in the garden and meadows were mowed in the early summer. Father and son worked in the fields together. Mother and Mother in law tended the garden and children together. After the family's larders were filled the surplus could be sold. Generations of wisdom were passed to the next by working together and telling stories. Nature gave signals and farmers listened.
Post World War II brought tractors, plows and synthetic fertilizers. Farmers could grow more plants, farm more acres and get higher yields. Tractors replaced horses and people. Farm kids went off to work in cities. The population farming started dwindling. Babies born in 1954 are the ones still farming today. The average age of a farmer in the USA today is 67 years old. The war machine turned out lots of new technology and opened the eyes of the younger generation to the world beyond the farm. My Grandfather bought his first and only brand new tractor with money from the GI Bill. A John Deere tricycle tractor that was used by the family until the turn of the century. The new technology led to growth of farms and farmers started taking out loans to buy more property and equipment.
The 70's brought us organic movement. The first rumblings of organic agriculture started in the 1970's as people became more aware of the environment. A few niche farmers started growing food using organic fertilizer, herbicides and pesticides which are considered gentler to nature. Organic agriculture has been growing slowly since then. It has had its growing pains like all movements. One can not say they are organic unless they are certified by one of the many different agencies that certify growers. There is an application process in which farms must outline all chemicals that are used on the farm from the approved organic list.
The 90's brought us the sustainable movement. Farms grew larger and more specialized, growing only one or two commodities on large swathes of land. Still only a handful of farms were considered organic. Climate activists started talking about global warming and the dire state of our planet. In agriculture circles the word sustainable started to be used. Farms would label themselves as sustainable or organic and sustainable to set themselves apart from others. The premise is that sustainable farms were doing something about the state of affairs and did not want things to get worse. But in reality, our system of agriculture was still declining. Yes, farmers were able to grow more food, with less land and less people to manage it. But the children did not return to the farm. Why would they want to? Farmers are seen as destroying the planet, debts are overwhelming, crop failure is a normal occurrence, prices are so low farmers earn wages below minimum wage, weather has consistently destroyed crops and infrastructure every year.
And then 2020 brought us the need for something more. We grow enough food in the United States for our population but grocery store shelves were bare and producers were not able to get products to the markets. Regenerative agriculture is the most recent paradigm in agriculture circles. The idea is to regenerate, build back up, make better, heal the land, families and communities. Farmers are looking for ways in which they can work with nature, bring back biodiversity, lower inputs, use less, waste less and still support a growing population. They look for ways to store carbon, build habitats, bring the younger generation back to the farm and they have a vision for how their land will look in the distant future. They want to solve problems, have a living wage and a healthy environment. Not all farms have made changes to their farming practices, but this last several years has made more farmers think about the future and their current farming practices. More farms are choosing to reach out and connect with consumers, grow a larger variety of crops and do something different.