Just the name "corporate farm" sounds bad. It makes many people imagine a company from the industrial revolution that was dirty and grey from soot and pumping pollution into the air and water. It makes people think of rich, white, Wall Street type men sitting around in a board room in suits making choices about something far removed from them they have never even seen. It paints the picture of the deepest, darkest corners of the industry that no one could be proud of - where customers are lied to. Farms where animals are abused and living in awful conditions while wildlife and native plants are eradicated from the land.
The Family Farm
When people think of a "family farm" they may think of this Little Red Hen, Where is Farmer Jones? and other books that depict the farm with chickens, turkeys, a sheep, a cow, a red barn, a garden, a green cabless tractor and a farmer with overalls on. Many people may think of a small farm as something that they remember from childhood or heard stories about from their great-grandparents' farm in the 1920s. As an example: On the family farm, things are always tight but no one cares because the grass is green just like in an Alabama song.
Corporate Farm vs. Family Farm
So what exactly is the difference? If a farm has filed the appropriate documents with the secretary of state to be a C-Corp, is that the line in the sand? What if they elect to be taxed as an S-corp? What if the farm is a multimember LLC? Is it revenue; the farm becomes a corporate farm if they bring in an income of $1MM? What is it that defines the difference? Does the family farm cease to exist if they have a hired hand like Jud Fry in the musical, Oklahoma? He is not family...
The Real Meaning of a Family Farm
Many of our friends are farmers. These are the people we go to church with, or are neighbors with, or went to high school with. As I look at them, I think, "They have a family and a farm, so they are a family farm." I think what people really mean is related to core values. A family farm is one that has family as one of the core values. It also would have things like hard work, dedication, honesty, integrity, stewardship, and loyalty as core values. Many of our friends have filed LLCs and elect to be taxed as an S-corp, or are organized as Corporations at the recommendation of a local lawyer to protect the farm from being taken in a lawsuit.
I would suggest that the size of the farm does not even make a family farm a corporate farm. There are good corporate citizens and bad corporate citizens in this world. Some of the bottoms of the barrel are McDonald's, Dish Network, Beyond Meat, New York Community Bank, and Sprouts Farmers Market just to name a few. On the other hand, General Mills, Nike, Gap, General Motors Company, and The Hershey Company are considered good corporate citizens. My point is, the collective character of the group of people is what defines them; the quality of their character, not the legal structure of the charter.
So what defines a Corporate Farm?
I would suggest that a corporate farm IS some of the things that we think of. They are a bad corporate citizen. The farm pollutes the air and water, sits around in a board room thinking only of profits no matter the cost, lies to customers, condones animal abuse, and produces crappy produce to boot!
So who cares?
It has been really interesting to see a shift in people. It seems like people want to know where their food comes from now. They see that there are good players and bad players. The bad players have lost sight of their STAKEHOLDERS and only care about the STOCKHOLDERS. Yes, I can see where by all appearances, larger Ag companies seem to fit the bill. And at the same time, make no mistake. There are good and bad small farms, and there are good and bad large farms. As a farmer, I need to be conscious of my actions and do what is right, then I need to connect to my customers so they can make informed decisions about my products. As a consumer, I can learn about the farmer or organizations that I buy from and make my decisions accordingly. I think that is really what this whole movement is about.
What do you think? Am I way off?