About Family Farm Defenders

Mission and History

Family Farm Defenders (FFD) incorporated as a non-profit organization in 1994 and was granted permanent 501(c)(3) status by the IRS in 1999. FFD began as an outgrowth of two national grass-roots campaigns: demanding a national referendum to end the mandatory check-off on raw milk that funds the lobby and propaganda efforts of the corporate dairy industry; and to defend consumer “right to know” in response to the stealth introduction of recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH) into the nation’s milk supply.

Our mission is to create a farmer-controlled and consumer-oriented food and fiber system, based upon democratically controlled institutions that empower farmers to speak for and respect themselves in their quest for social and economic justice. To this end, FFD supports agroecology, farm & food worker rights, racial justice, animal welfare, consumer safety & right to know, fair trade – both globally and domestically, as well as food sovereignty.  FFD has also worked to create opportunities for farmers to join together in new cooperative marketing endeavors and to bridge the socioeconomic gap that often exists between rural and urban communities.

What is a Family Farmer?

Being Family Farm Defenders, this question is posed quite often. Worse yet, while smallscale agricultural enterprises across the U.S. are disappearing in record numbers, the industrial agribusiness operations that replace them often try to masquerade as “family farms” to evade regulatory scrutiny and garner public sympathy. For instance, Cargill could conceivably identify itself as a “family farm” since it is a private entity largely controlled by the MacMillan family.

While many government agencies have their own definition of “family farm” that is often tied to size or income for the purpose of distributing subsidies or qualifying for programs, a better definition would encompass who does the bulk of the work and who makes farming decisions. While largescale livestock confinement operations (aka “factory farms”) may be managed by a family, they are often owned by outside investors, dependent upon a large pool of non-unionized often immigrant farm workers, and have their decisions and practices dictated by contracts and agreements with much more powerful agribusiness corporations. For instance, the technology use agreements (TUAs) that Monsanto requires any user of its patented Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) to sign basically shifts all product liability to the farmer and takes away their privacy rights. Similarly, the supplier contract for Tyson requires farmers to use sub-therapeutic antibiotics in their feedstock and forbids them from collectively organizing with other poultry growers.

On the other hand, while a family farm may rent some of the land it uses and be involved with a co-op or land trust that places limits on what products can be sold and what type of production can occur, the family still provides the majority of labor and has the ultimate decision-making authority. Such rural autonomy is critical to food sovereignty since without the power to choose, there is no real difference between a contemporary farmer and a medieval serf.

For another perspective on this issue, below is the response to this question from the website of the National Family Farm Coalition (NFFC) – http://www.nffc.net Family Farm Defenders is an active member of NFFC.

What is a Family Farm?

A family farm is not defined by size, but rather by the fact that the family provides the vast majority of the labor and management decisions. For example, farmers within the National Family Farm Coalition operate a large variety of farms—some farm a couple of acres while others farm thousands of acres. The common goal of family farmers is farm sustainability—both economically and environmentally.

On a family farm, the family takes the risks, makes the decisions and should receive the economic gains. In order to remain economically viable, farmers must be able to earn a decent living from their farming operations to support their families and contribute to the rural economy. From purchasing equipment to direct marketing, family farmers play a major role in contributing to rural communities’ economic viability.

Current farm policy, however, promotes environmental destruction and the loss of economic fairness and freedom. This policy forces family farmers to exploit their land by producing more to partially compensate for lower returns which contributes to the economic decline of the family farm system. This also leads to farm consolidation and more industrialized agriculture resulting in further concentration of economic and political power within faceless and unaccountable multinational corporations.

A thriving, sustainable family farm system will only be possible if supported by government policy that encourages widespread ownership of land and restores competition to the buying, exporting, packing and processing industries in all commodities. Furthermore, policy needs to ensure that farm products’ prices reflect all costs, both internal and external, striving for economic justice throughout the farm and food system.