A farm is developed in order to grow food.
Perhaps it started as small a homestead somewhere over a hundred years ago. Around here, that homesteader was probably an immigrant from Ireland or Germany. Maybe they spoke English. There was a good chance they didn’t. Regardless, a journey was made to this place with little more than a wagon and a mule. Land was cleared, a cabin built, a garden planted. The homesteader got some chickens, a few hogs, maybe some goats. Seeds planted in the spring soil are to grow food for the family’s table.
Time goes on, the homesteader’s family increases in size. More land is cleared and more farmland created. The number of chickens and hogs and goats increase. Perhaps the homesteader adds some cows for milk and beef. The animals create a symbiotic relationship with the land and the soil becomes more and more fertile. At some point, the homesteader grows more food than his family consumes. He begins to sell the surplus as it becomes available. The homestead becomes a farm.
Over time, technology changes. The mules used to plow fields are replaced with a tractor. This makes it possible for the farmer to farm more land. So, more land is cleared for pasture for animals and more fields are planted for crops. The farmer has a symbiotic relationship with the land. The farmer thrives. A bigger house is built for the family.
The institution that is called a farm grows food and remains true to its function by feeding the farmer’s family and surrounding community. The animals are healthy. The soil is healthy. The family is healthy. The institution thrives. Form follows function.
Time marches on. Decades and generations pass.
Agri-markets change and it becomes harder and harder to make a living on a small farm. When at one time, a person could scratch out a living on forty acres, it eventually turned to needing a hundred. Then five-hundred, then a thousand. Crops and livestock sold locally, get shipped off to some distant place. Small farmers fall victim to economies of scale and global markets, and either just let their land go fallow or sell out to a larger neighbor. Growing food for the family becomes an afterthought. Food is simply purchased at the grocery store and all crops and livestock are sold off because there are bank loans to pay if they want to hold onto the land. The farmer’s family eats none of the food he grows. Finally, the descendant of the original homesteader has enough and decides to sell out because he can make more money doing less work in town.
A new owner purchases the large, single farm that was once a collection of smaller farms. The new owner has no experience farming. For this new owner, the institution that is a farm is simply an investment and a tax shelter.
The new owner doesn’t live on the farm. He lives in a distant city and hires a series of managers to run the farm for him. But, the managers are just working for a paycheck and the new owner wants to squeeze as much as he can out of his investment. And so, he over-plants and under-fertilizes. He doesn’t understand that you have to give back to the soil if you want it to continue to produce. He doesn’t understand stewardship. He doesn’t understand soil. He has no connection to the land. The symbiotic relationships that once existed on the farm now ceases to exist. To the new owner, the farm is a machine and not an organism. The land dries up, the crops fail. Topsoil blows and washes away. The new owner sells the dying land that was once a farm off to another corporate investor.
The institution that was called a farm no longer grows food and fails to remain true to its function of feeding the farmer’s family and surrounding community. The animals are gone. The soil is dead. The family is gone. The farmer is gone. The institution collapses.
Function follows form.