Specialization of Farming in Knox County

hundreds of turkeys in the Hawk's fields-1971
Although Knox County has continued to produce a variety of agriculutual products, individual family farms have tended to become more specialized in recent years. As Kelly Brown, who lives on a dairy/sugar maple syrup farm in northwestern Knox County, described, "Agriculture is becoming so specialized, that it's not like you can go to a farm and learn anymore about everything. We have a dairy farm and it's hard to ... I don't know much about sheep or pigs or horses. But it used to be a general farm, you could go to one farm and there were chickens and pigs and cattle and everybody knew everything about how to take care of them and it doesn't work that way anymore."

Along with this large disappearance of the general farm, the diversity of production has meant a decrease in the self-reliance of the farm. General farms gave the farmer the freedom to be self-reliant. Today, many farmers rely on outside resources. For example, Don and Janet Hawk, turkey farmers from Howard Township, rely on breeder operations, hatchery associations, outside marketers and outside feed to operate their farm. Rather than hatching, producing feed and marketing on their own, the different operations are managed separately. This sort of specialization allows the Hawks to concentrate specifically on raising the birds, allowing them to raise more birds than if they were to manage all of the separate operations by themselves. Bill Brown attributes this specialization to the farming economy. "You pretty much get into a specialization field in order to survive the economy today. The idea of having a half dozen hogs, a couple hundred chickens, and fifteen or twenty cows just doesn't get with farming as we know today because it doesn't produce enough income to make a reasonable living."

Family farmers have also become less reliant on their own land and livestock to feed their families and more reliant on outside sources. As Larry Algire, Deputy Master for the Knox County Grange, expressed, "My dad had five of us on a one-hundred and eighty acres and we farmed on the shares. We lived, you know. We didn't go to the grocery store and buy too much canned stuff there- you made it, grew it all at home and canned it. You had your own meat, your own vegetables, made your own bread. And nowadays, you wouldn't find too many people that do that."

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The Amish are the exception to this. Settled mostly in the eastern part of Knox County, the Amish, on the whole, continue to be entirely self-reliant. They are able to remain self-reliant through the preservation of the general farm and the closeknit nature of the Amish community.

But for the majority of farmers specialization has become a way of life. One hundred head of cattle, fourteen thousand turkeys, two hundred sheep on one farm have become the norm. But as Becky Shinaberry, who lives on a sheep and beef farm in Fredricktown, believes all farming, be it specialized or diversified, continues to teach the same basic ideas. "I think farming teaches a lot of the basics that we as farmers believe in- of working together and taking care of the land that has been given to us."

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