Over the years, farms in the U.S. and locally have gotten bigger, for several reasons. At the same time, these larger farms are still family farms, owned and operated by families. Some of them hire outside help, but that has been true from the time we started growing an abundant food supply in this country.
Generally speaking, economics have dictated when farms get bigger. But that oversimplifies the whole picture.
A few people think we should be farming like Grandpa and Grandma did 50 or 75 years ago. But today it would be impossible to raise a family the way many of our grandparents did.
They might have had 100 to 125 acres, a herd of 15 to 20 cows plus young stock, eight or 10 hogs, a small flock of chickens and a big garden. They raised a family of three or four children without an off-farm income. My guess is that many of us have these kinds of family farms in our heritage.
Then we need to look at what we have today compared to what they had back then. They didn't have TV, computers and the Internet, cell phones - and usually more than one - designer jeans and other expensive clothes, a fancy new car with a good heater and air conditioning, eating out three of four nights a week, college tuition, higher health care costs and much more.
Some will say that farm families don't need all these things. They don't realize that farm families are like the rest of us and want to enjoy the same quality of life that their urban neighbors have. So these things become necessary and raise their cost of living.
Farms had to get bigger to increase incomes to allow these increased expenses.
A few individuals and groups would like us to believe that farms got bigger because some huge corporation or outside group forced the "little guy" out of business. And they would like us to believe that most of our food is raised on big corporate farms that abuse livestock and destroy the land.
Facts don't show that to be the case.
Looking at farm size in our area, we find the average farm in Trumbull County is 130 acres, according to the Ohio Agricultural Statistical Service. Up in Ashtabula County, it is 146 acres, over in Geauga just 64 acres, and Lake, 63. The average for Ohio is 187 acres.
These figures would suggest we are not a state with huge megafarms.
Averages can be misleading. We know that the number of family farms 500 acres and more have increased considerably, with several 2,000- and 3,000-acre farms. These farms generally are efficient operating units in which 65 to 75 percent of the food in this country is produced. And they continue to be family farms, owned and operated by families.
Farms tend to expand because economics dictate they should get bigger. If the cost of living goes up but the price for what a farm produces does not, and that has been the case in years past, then to stay in farming the choice is to get bigger - or get a job off the farm.
Both choices have been made over the years in our area. Many small farms continue to exist with the help of off-farm income. At the same time, we have a number of good, large family farms doing an efficient job of producing our food.
We need to realize that to live in these modern times, bigger family farms are a part of our society and do an excellent job of producing quality food at a reasonable cost.
Parker is professor emeritus at The Ohio State University and an independent agricultural writer.