What is a Family Farm?

Posted: January 15, 2020

Answer: About 96% of all farms in the U.S. are family-owned and operated. Some farms have been farmed by generations of family members and are incorporated for business purposes.

I’m sure you’ve seen it driving down the road. Miles and miles of corn and soybeans stretching endlessly across the horizon. Some fields even have the signs of big agriculture companies like Pioneer or DEKALB marking these fields. You may find it hard to believe, but those are a mark of pride for our American family farm.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 96% of all farms are family farms. We are one of those family farms. I grew up on the west side of DeKalb County. Youngest of seven and immersed in the world of agriculture. One-by-one my older siblings went on to enviable careers in business, communications, engineering, and education. After graduating from the University of Illinois, I was honored to join our family farm.

Under my father Paul’s mentoring and partnership, we farm here, right outside of DeKalb. Together, we grow corn, soybeans and sweet corn and peas for Del Monte. We try to do the best by the land and our landowners by preserving our soil with our farming methods and growing a crop that is what our consumers want.

My dad and I farm with help from my uncle and my retired ag teacher. We have a family farm but it is also considered a corporate farm because we have established a legal partnership/corporation to help simplify our business relationship.

Yet I don’t feel like I’m a part of a corporation. I feel like I am doing the same job I’ve always done, but hopefully better. I’m able to get my kids on and off the bus, and I know if I’m not there it will be my dad or my uncle. I appreciate the experience of raising my family here amongst the crops.

My wife Amy teaches high school full-time but makes sure that we have dinner if we are working late. She also grew up on a livestock and grain farm and is integral to the kid’s livestock. Our sons Warren and Eli ride in the tractor after school, help work in the shop, tend to their 4-H animals, and pick up rocks in our fields.

If you’d like to know what a family farm is then it’s probably what you envisioned but it comes in the form of every farmer you meet on the road.

I have friends that farm a lot of ground and friends that farm a little. My story is not unique but is reflected in nearly every farm I know. When you meet a farmer on the road it is someone likely with a story similar to mine. It is likely someone that is trying to do the best they can to make their farm better. It is likely someone who wants to make their farm sustainable for their kids, and their kids. They are someone who more often than not has some incorporation, or partnership, or LLC in order to preserve that dream for the next generation.

For every mile of country road you drive I would like you to think of us. For every row of corn you see it is a plan we have in place. We start right now meeting with our seed salesmen, which many are other farmers. Our “industry” is one of familiarity where most people are only one step away from farming.

For every soybean row that was planted, for every road ditch that was mowed, you will find us, the family farmer. One of the greatest honors that we can receive in terms of recognition is when one of those farmers who sells us the seed has the confidence to put up their company’s sign on our field. It shows satisfaction in a job well done. Next time you see one of those signs, take note. It is someone’s sign of pride.


The Schweitzers – Amy, Mike, Eli, and Warren farm in rural Esmond. They grow corn, soybeans, sweet corn, and peas and raise 4-H animals.