|Photo: Alan Light via Flickr|
...Why is the perception of "corporate farming" so widespread when actually almost all of the country's food is being grown or raised by family-owned operations?
It might have something to do with the fact that corporate agribusiness is indeed very real—it's just that it has carved out the most profitable parts of food production for itself, while leaving the dirty, uncertain work of farming for others.
The reality is that farming itself is generally a terrible business. There's much more—and much easier—money to be made by selling farmers the raw materials of their trade—like seeds, fertilizer, or livestock feed. And there's also plenty of money in buying farmers' output cheap (say, corn or hogs) and selling it dear (as, say, pork chops or high-fructose corn syrup). In his excellent 2004 book Against the Grain: How Agriculture Has Hijacked Civilization, Richard Manning pungently describes the situation:
A farm scholar once asked an agribusiness executive when his corporation would simply take over the farms. The exec said that it would be dumb for the corporation to do so, in that it is not free to exploit its employees to the degree that farmers are willing to exploit themselves.Tomorrow, in Mother Jones, Tom Philpott will explain "just how tough it is for farmers caught between the huge corporate suppliers and the huge corporate buyers."