The return to family farms increases community populations and brings families together to grow food for the next generation.
Family farms are often owned, operated and passed down through generations of one family line. According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service’s Census of Agriculture, 96% of the 2,204,792 farms in the United States in 2021 are run by families.
Allan Vyhnalek, Farm and Ranch Succession and Transition extension educator and a Saline County native, said farms have a tremendous effect on the health of towns all over Nebraska.
“Without farms, we can’t support local business, and without local business, we can’t support the community,” Vyhnalek said. “We must support full-time, part-time and specialized farmers in order to support our state.”
This support comes from many different avenues, but for family farms, it comes from college students and young people returning to their roots and helping with their family’s farms.
“I’ve been able to see a significant amount of people returning to family farms in my time in places like Platte Center, Columbus, McCook and Imperial,” Vyhnalek said. “It boosts the economy and supports those towns like no other.”
The return of young people is also meaningful for the families who own and operate these farms.
“The rural lifestyle is very appealing to people, as well as the aspect of keeping families together,” Vyhnalek said. “Returning to your family farm means you have a chance to have grandchildren grow up with grandparents around. It also means you get to experience a healthy, honest way of life and grow food for the next generation.”
Cody Griess is a sophomore at the University of Nebraska Lincoln majoring in agricultural economics. His family owns and operates several farms throughout Nebraska.
“Our farms are located in small-town areas and are important to the community because they support local business in the community,” Griess said. “My dad has always emphasized and prided himself on the necessity of successful businesses supporting other businesses. We always try to buy local, and our farms also provide a lot of job opportunities to those towns.”
Griess feels the pull to return to his family’s farm after school.
“I’m considering going back to the family farm after college so I can carry on what my parents worked so hard to start and expand,” Griess said. “The farm is what I grew up learning and what I know. It’s where my passion is.”
According to Vyhnalek, communities have a responsibility to the young people returning home.
“We have an amazing opportunity and a chance to use their knowledge,” Vyhnalek said. “This is a highly intelligent group of young people who can help and improve smaller farming communities. We better treat those young people with respect, with a lot of appreciation and we better listen to what they have to say.”
As the number of young people return home to help operate family farms increases, community populations will grow. But ultimately, family is what drives this push.
“Our family farms mean a lot to me and my family,” Griess said. “I have always felt this family business was a huge blessing to my parents from God. There is a lot of family pride in a family business. It’s the American dream to start from very little and build a successful business. Why would I not want to be a part of that?”