There is much nostalgia about America’s agricultural past that many seem incapable of releasing. But the reality is forcing a new narrative about the family farm. In an era of globalization and government subsidizing large agribusinesses, family farmers have no choice in the near future but to diversify the use of their land and do something that is actually profitable. In the light of these realities, family farming is slowly becoming more of a hobby than a means of making a serious contribution to the U.S. food supply. The farmland owned by families in the past must continue to be developed for new and better uses if families want to still remain connected to that land.
For example, the New York Times today reports on the growing trend of North Dakota farms opening their land to oil drilling in order to remain viable. John Eligon reports that North Dakota family farmers, Mike and Kim Sorenson, receive royalties from oil that is produced on their land and from allowing drilling, which accounts for about 10 percent of their income. In fact, North Dakota has slowly become the second-largest oil producing state in the country and helped the state build a surplus of more than $1.6 billion. With this growing industry comes all of the ancillary markets needed to maintain oil production like waste management. North Dakota farmers with land that is drilled for oil are now wrestling with the realities that oil production requires a management infrastructure that will forever change the landscape.
Westerners seem to be more vulnerable to a form of geographical romanticism that leads them to believe that the only change that was good was the change they benefited from originating in the past. New, innovative change, however, needs to be put on the alter of utopian visions of life remaining the same. Geographic romanticism holds that communities, farms, landscapes, and so on, will and should remain in the form that we enjoyed them in the past but this sentiment does nothing but stifle and discourage innovation and encourages politicians to pursue a viral growth of government regulations in the name of “preservation.”
Perhaps the American pursuit of comfort and ease has killed the entrepreneurial imagination that built this country but today’s family farmers are being forced to chose innovation over romanticism so that they do not have sell their farms to someone else who will sleep just fine making such a trade-off.
A merchant banker. A failing dairy farmer. A refugee from Communist China. One risked his savings. One risked his farm. One risked his life.
Why do their stories matter? Because how we view entrepreneurs - as greedy or altruistic, as virtuous or vicious - shapes the destinies of individuals and nations.
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