Family Farm Field Day: Strong agriculture builds strong families, communities

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DUNDEE, Ohio — When agriculture is strong, the community is strong and the country is strong.

That was the take-home message from Leroy S. Miller, the keynote speaker at the 2014 Family Farm Field Day held at the farm of Reuben and Catherine Yoder in Dundee.

Miller, his wife, Linda, and four children operate a diversified farm in Bird-In-Hand, Pa.

Miller began farming conventionally in 1997 with a dairy herd of 45-50 Holsteins. By 2004, Miller began transitioning his farm to organic farming methods and his dairy herd to Jerseys.

They practice intensive grazing and ship organic milk. They also raise pastured broilers and layers, have a farrow-to-finish hog operation and have some beef cattle.

They also started a produce operation, which allowed them to expand and add another family to their operation. Miller is also involved with CARE (Communities Alliance For Responsible Eco Farming) and OASIS, a co-op marketing grass-fed meat, cheeses, high quality produce and dairy products.

“If you are going to succeed in agriculture, you have to be willing to change,” he said. “You have to be willing to move forward.”

Direct marketing

Fifteen years ago, his community was at a tipping point; there was no money in farming and farmers needed to make decisions on whether they would continue farming or find other occupations.

Miller and his family began direct marketing their products, which allowed them to bring another family into the operation. He said options such as direct marketing have been helpful.

“If you know why you want to do it, the customers will trust you,” he said. “Educate yourself. We have several options and we don’t put all of our eggs in one basket.

“When you are bigger, you can’t change your operation as easily and you may not do ethical things,” he said.

Miller believes that the strength of the family and the future of agriculture start with the children. Miller added that parents’ attitudes toward their occupation can reflect in their children’s decisions.

“If you don’t focus on the children, you won’t have someone to continue what we have in agriculture,” he said. “Children need to know what their parents are doing. If you don’t talk to your children about your job, they will take other interests, whether you like it or not.”

Making the change

When the Millers changed their operation to a diversified organic operation and direct marketing, it made the farming operation safer and family friendly, and gave their children a chance to be involved.

“It gives the children an opportunity to make decisions, based on profit,” Miller said. “But get the children involved when they are younger or they will lose interest. When the children are young, they want to help. Teach them new skills, let them use tools, stimulate their minds.”

Miller added that sometimes parents need to say no to an idea, but it should be done in a nice way.
“The family needs to support the project,” he said.

He added that children enjoy young animals and working with animals will teach them things that no money can buy.

“Let them expand their imaginations,” he said. “Stimulate their thoughts and ingenuity.”

Staying safe

But parents need to make farming safe for their children and Miller cautioned the audience about safety when handling livestock and equipment. He added that it is important to share knowledge with others and invest in the community.

“You can lose your money overnight, but no one can take knowledge from you,” he said. “Everyone is different, but they need coaching and mentoring. We need someone to step up and help. You can’t take that knowledge with you when you leave this earth.”

Miller said today’s mindset of get bigger or get out is not going to take agriculture in the right direction.

Miller reminded the audience that during the 1940s and 1950s American agriculture was strong and the country was booming.

“If you destroy agriculture, your security is gone and the government has control over the people.” he said.

He said small family farms across the country, backed by small businesses to support the farmers kept communities strong.

And it kept the families and churches in the communities strong as well.

“We need to fertilize the land with more people and more farms,” he said. “We need to get our heart in the right place and things will move forward and support the community. We will grow again.”

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