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By Jake Carter
Change can be tough. Especially for farmers.
I come from a long line of farmers who faced both ups and downs throughout the generations, but that’s par for the course with farming.
It takes a special breed of person to farm thanks to the many challenges that Mother Nature, the markets and public opinion throw our way. It’s how we navigate those bumps in the road that show what farmers are made of. It’s how we adapt to change.
I am the fifth generation of my family to farm our land. We started out as a dairy, which lasted for four generations. But, right around the time that I returned home from college to take over the family farm, urban sprawl began taking over our neck of the woods.
Our farm, which had been in our family since 1938, was on the verge of being taken for development.
I knew that one of my first decisions as entrepreneur of our farm would be my toughest. I was being forced to either hang it up or to change. But for me, not farming was never an option. Like many farmers, I grew up knowing there was no other career for me. I studied business at the University of Georgia so I could return home and be the best farmer I could be. Farming is a business and I wanted to treat it that way.
So, when it came time for me to make a tough decision about selling the farm, the businessman in me – the farmer in me – instead took it as an opportunity to go in a new direction.
My wife and I turned our dairy farm into an educational opportunity for suburban and city kids to learn what farming is all about. Through school tours and agri-tourism, we are putting a face on farming. We turned the dairy from production agriculture to educational agriculture and added a u-pick fruit operation.
As the old cliché goes, we took lemons and made lemonade.
Our Southern Bell Farm, a 320-acre agri-tourism destination, offers u-pick strawberries, blueberries and blackberries, a fall corn maze and educational school tours year-round. Most importantly, it offers kids hands-on experiences with agriculture.
I wholeheartedly believe that farmers need to put a face on farming and show people what we do, how we do what we do, and also why we do certain things.
I consider myself lucky that I can make that connection in person with the people who visit our farm. I also realize that in-person farm visits are not an option for most farmers and ranchers. But there are always other ways to connect with consumers, such as through social media. It doesn’t matter how we make those connections, just that we do.
Times are definitely changing, especially for agriculture. My advice to both young and older farmers is that instead of being afraid of change, we should embrace it. You never know, it can lead to wonderful things. In my case, it definitely led to lemonade.
Georgia farmer Jake Carter is chair of the American Farm Bureau Federation’s Young Farmers and Ranchers Committee. Learn more about him and his family’s farm at: http://southernbellefarm.com/.