Top Navigation Bar

ASAE Conference Proceeding

This is not a peer-reviewed article.


K. Mancl, J. Beiler, and G. Arnold

Pp. 110-114 in Swine Housing II, Conference Proceedings, 12-15 October 2003 (Raleigh, North Carolina, USA), ed. Larry Jacobson. ,12 October 2003 . ASAE Pub #701P1303


Problems in farm families can arise from differing priorities, attitudes and commitments. Farm families need help with farm planning. When the members of the family all know what is expected in the future, they’re better able to cope, even if they do not they do not like all of the plans. The goal of this program was to develop a comprehensive educational program in farmstead planning for the family where farmstead aesthetics was an integral part of the planning. Families learned how to examine their farmstead and describe the view from neighbors and passers-by prospective. Strategies for improving the view were developed using 4 principles; openness, ordered/natural, productive and in concert with nature.

KEYWORDS. family farm, extension program, education, rural landscape


Even successful farming operations can suffer from declining production as poor weather and low commodity prices frustrate even the best farm managers. Without a sense of urgency or focus family members can begin to lose their commitment to the farm. Maas (1995) describes the need for long range plans developed with the help of a facilitator to keep all members of the farm family striving toward the same goal. He also points out the value of short-term projects that can give everyone a common focus and sense of achievement.

Dr. Bernie Ervin, at The Ohio State University conducted in the early 1990’s an educational program called “Management Excel” to enable Ohio Farmers to develop management plans for their farms. Management Excel originated at Cornell University and was adapted by Dr. Ervin to fit producers in Ohio. In the excel program, farmers develop mission statements, management systems, and business plans to ensure farm viability. Dr. Ervin has trained eleven teams of county extension agents and as a result the program has reached over 1525 farmers. Some of the mission statements developed by farm families include:

“Have opportunities for family member involvement, education, possibly farm someday”

“Make a profit - to develop a business that can be passed on. To provide a decent

lifestyle and retirement”

“Our mission is to operate a family dairy farm which is profitable enough to provide an enjoyable place to work and raise our family”

“Have a nice working environment so the kids will want to stay with agriculture and also learn the values of working together and personal responsibilities”

“Management Excel” does not substitute or provide technical education for farmers. Rather the program has caused many farmers to examine their management styles along with their buildings and facilities.

Keeping the farm in the family brings with it special stresses. Weigel, Blundall and Weigel (1986) examined the lives and work of 481 adults from Iowa farm families. The group they studied included nearly equal numbers of fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters-in-law. Living on tight money was identified as the leading source of stress. However, the next most important sources of stress were related to relationships. The authors noted that problems arose from differing priorities, attitudes and commitments. Based on this study, farm families need help with farm planning. When the members of the family all know what is expected in the future, they’re better able to cope, even if they do not they do not like all of the plans.

The number of Ohio farms headed by women are growing; from 3700 in 1982 to 4200 in 1992 (Dispatch,1995). At the same time the number of farms headed by men are decreasing; from 83,000 in 1982 to 66,000 in 1992. All family members, regardless of gender, need the opportunity to be actively involved in developing future plans for the farm. Women have and will continue to have an important role in the future of family farms.

The role of farmstead aesthetics receives little attention in overall farmstead planning. However, USDA has published some guidelines to encourage farmstead planners to consider aesthetics. Chapter 8 of Agricultural Waste Management Field Handbook (NRCS, 1992) includes a section on aesthetic quality under design options.

Landscape design for ponds has been presented by USDA (Wells, 1988). The location, landform and vegetation can all be enhanced to present a more pleasing pond in the landscape.

A overview of rural landscape quality was presented by Nassauer (1986). Her guide presents a series of landscape principles.

The goal was to develop a comprehensive educational program in farmstead planning for the family where farmstead aesthetics was an integral part of the planning.


A new educational program was developed to address the need to involve the entire family in farmstead planning. Figure 1 outlines the 7 sections of the program. Farm family members learned how to implement their plan and were inspired to continue the strategic planning process.

The program is delivered over the course of one year made up of half-day meetings spaced throughout the year followed by homework exercises for each of the family members.

Figure 1. Educational program in farmstead planning.

Designing Family Farmsteads for a Successful Future

- Farmstead Planning for Farm Families -

1. Inputs – Examine the farm history and project where it is headed over the next 20 years. The family develops a scale drawing of their farm. Children draw their vision of the future farmstead and produce a timeline of their contributions to the farm.

2. Area, Capacity & Volume Needs - Identify the areas, capacities and volumes they currently have and will need in the future. They calculate areas, capacities and volumes for present and planned facilities. Children calculate the size of their room, the volume of their toys and the weight and volume of water to fill the bathtub.

3. Proximity - Identify all of the farm facilities that need to be close together and all of the facilities that should be kept separate. Keeping in mind fire protection and proper building spacing for natural building ventilation. Environmental issues of buffer strips and well protection are included. Proximity to neighbors and roadways are considered. Children set up a weather vane, record wind direction and draw wind roses for the farm.

4. Materials flow - Examine how feed, animals, fertilizers, water, wastes and other materials move though their farming operation. Arrange the farmstead layout to allow easy and efficient flow of materials with safe and reliable placement of utilities. Future facilities can be positioned to minimize traffic, promote drive-through, reduce backing up and reduce conflicts. Children develop flow diagram for their movement on the farm with the goal of improving safety.

5. Function – Examine their farmstead plans to ensure facilities are convenient and pleasant to work in, safe for all family members (especially young children) and secure from intruders. Children survey and label safe and unsafe areas for young visitors to the farm.

6. Aesthetics – Learn rural landscape principles and how to incorporate them into their farmstead plan. In this way their farm continues to be a visual asset to the family and the community. Children draw or photograph the farm from their prospective, such as the view from their bedroom, the bus stop or a neighbor friend’s home.

7. Implementation - Examine plans and timelines to develop a priority list for farmstead development. They learn how to select and interact with designers, engineers, and builders and obtain necessary permits, licenses and the other resources to implement their plan. Children develop a farm scrap-book and treasure chest.


Managing an efficient, productive farmstead that is pleasing to look at may seem like a contradiction. Farmsteads are active work areas with equipment and mud, crops and weeds, along with animals and manure. Some people state that maintaining a visually pleasing farmstead will take too much additional time and money.

With a little planning any farmstead can be a source of pride for the operator and a visual asset to the community. Implementing the plan does not have to require additional time or expense.

The first step in developing an aesthetics (or visual impact) plan for a farmstead is to carefully view it from a variety of prospectives. The easiest way to view a farmstead is with a series of photographs. These photographs should be taken at each of the “front doors” to a farmstead and during different seasons of the year. Just as opening the front door of a home gives a visitor a first impression about the house, the first view of a farm can make the same first impression. The “front doors” for a farmstead are:

The second step is to define the walls of the view. Just as walls in a home define the view from the front door, a visual wall will set the limits of the view in a rural landscape. Rural landscapes are contained in four types of walls.

The third step is to study each view to characterize it. Rural landscapes are characterized using 4 principles.

The final step is to plan strategies to enhance each view. Some possible strategies include:


Developing an attractive farmstead does not require a lot of time and money. It does however require:


Support for this project was provided by Ohio State University Extension. The contributions of Richard Stowell, Albert Heber, Don Jones and Terry Mescher are gratefully acknowledged.


Columbus Dispatch. 1995. Women running more of Ohio’s farms. March 14.

Maas, G. 1995. How to manage the mature operation. Pork 95 15(4): 21.

Nassauer, J.I. 1986. Caring for the countryside – a guide to seeing and maintaining rural landscape quality. Station Bulletin AD-SB-3017 University of Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station. 48 pages.

NRCS. 1992. Siting agricultural waste management structures. Agricultural Waste Management Field Handbook. Chapter 8. USDA pages 16-24.

Weigel, D.J., J.S. Blundall, and R.R. Weigel. 1986. Keeping peace on the farm – stress of two-generation farm families. Journal of Extension, Summer: 4-6.

Wells, G. 1988. Landscape design: ponds. Landscape Architecture Note 2. USDA 23 pages.