As land is passed on to kids and grandkids, millions of acres across the country end up being owned by people who are no longer farmers, and increasingly, never were.
"My parents were farmers, both of my grandparents were farmers. Probably as far back as ever we were farmers,” says 77-year-old Shirley Gray. We are sitting in the wood-paneled dining room of her family’s farm in south central Iowa. “My husband’s parents were farmers, his grandparents were farmers. So we have always been farmers.”
Always, that is, until 2009, when Gray and her late husband decided they would stop farming and rent out their land instead. Gray’s kids and grandkids had all moved away from the farm and taken jobs in cities and towns throughout the region, ending the family’s 156-year farming tradition.
“The way it is set up, it will just keep right on being rented out,” Gray tells me when I ask what will happen to the farm when she is no longer alive to make decisions about it. “But we will keep the farm in the family, hopefully.”