Giving thanks: have you considered what your farm is thankful for?

iStock/Getty Images  Photo of big family standing hugging behind feast table
A reflection on your farm’s past may provide insight into its transition ahead.

This year many family gatherings will be altered due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. However, imagine if your family farm, the actual land and dirt itself, held a seat at your Thanksgiving table. What would your farm say it is thankful for?

Giving thanks

The answers to this may vary but could include the farm giving thanks to your family for generations of hard work, perseverance, being good stewards of the soil, and helping to provide food, fuel and fiber for people across the world. You might return the favor by giving thanks to the farm for providing a great way of life and means for raising a family, while also allowing you to do what you were born and love to do: being a farmer.

Reflecting on your farm’s past

When was the last time you paused to reflect on the history and origins of your family farm? During a recent meeting the patriarchs of the family encouraged all the family to reflect on what the farm meant to each of them. This caused emotion for some, surprising revelations to others, but ultimately led to the entire family giving thanks to what the farm has provided for them. The patriarchs went on by giving a historical record of how the farm not only shaped their lives but also the lives of the generations before them: a history lesson if you will. This was a clever and powerful exchange that set the stage for me to facilitate an open family discussion for their transition options ahead.  

What story does your farm tell

This caused me to think about other families I’ve worked with as well my own family farm. In fact, I did some digging and was fortunate to find this historical gem about my family farm heritage in Dallas County, Iowa:

Prof R.F. Wood 1907112620DowneyBros.jpg

Reading about my ancestors breaking the raw prairie in 1872 creates a feeling of respect, humility, and a sense that my family farm represents something much larger than me. I hope this sends a similar message forward to my children and grandchildren and causes them to appreciate and give thanks to their land ownership and what it meant to the generations before them. 

I can go on and give you other examples such as another patriarch writing a letter titled, Inheritance is a gift, not a right, for her children to read one day. Another family giving thanks for simply being the caretakers of the farm during their lifetimes. What story or message might you share?

Sending a message ahead in time

I believe every farm, and every farm family has its own unique story to tell. Every family also has its own set of unique dynamics, personalities, and difficulties in deciding upon what is fair and equal between farming and non-farming children. No matter your succession planning stumbling blocks, I encourage you to pause, reflect on your farm’s past, and carry your farm’s message forward in time. Otherwise, my fear is your farm’s story could eventually get lost in translation and lead to roadblocks that could derail the future of the farm.    

Downey has been helping farmers and landowners for the last 20 years with their family farm transition, leasing strategies, finances, and general land consultation.  He is the co-owner of Next Gen Ag Advocates and an associate of Farm Financial Strategies.  Reach Mike at
The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of Farm Futures or Farm Progress. 
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