The political talk this summer is all about jobs and job creators. Much of this discussion often seems to focus on urban jobs in manufacturing plants. That focus overlooks the important role agriculture plays in creating jobs in both rural communities and big cities.

Minnesota's farm families created jobs throughout the Great Recession. The strength of agriculture is a big reason why our state unemployment rate remains lower than the national average. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture reports that 342,000 Minnesotans have jobs because of the impact of growing and processing food. Those jobs are part of a total economic impact of $75 billion to Minnesota's economy and a strong contributor to our state's export strength. Minnesota exports of corn, soybeans, wheat, pork, beef, dairy products, poultry and host of other items bring about $5 billion of additional money into our state each year.

The economic engine that is Minnesota agriculture starts at the kitchen tables of farm families throughout the state. For while farming is a big business in Minnesota, the business of farming in Minnesota is family driven. According to USDA statistics, 95 percent of Minnesota farms are family-owned.

Other than family ownership, there is no standard way to describe Minnesota family farms. These are entrepreneurs who build unique businesses based on their land and potential markets. They find opportunities, apply technology and develop the skills needed to become successful. Many focus on the workhorses of Minnesota agriculture—corn, soybeans, wheat, dairy, pork, beef, poultry, sheep, sugar beets and sunflowers. Others branch into specialized pursuits and produce apples, navy beans, maple syrup, honey, deer, tomatoes, landscape trees or organic crops. The ways that Minnesota family farms create jobs is just as varied as the landscape of our state.

The business plans and economic impact of these family farms are only part of the story. Farm families are the main drivers improving the fabric of many rural communities. They are the ones who invest time in making a difference by serving on township boards, hospital boards, school boards and church councils.

Despite all the good they do, farm families often do not receive the recognition they deserve. The University of Minnesota started the Farm Family of the Year program some 30 years ago to recognize successful farm families for their impact on our economy and rural communities.

This year, families from 76 Minnesota counties will be recognized for their contributions to agriculture, our economy and rural communities at an August 9 ceremony at Farmfest, the state's largest farm gathering. The University of Minnesota is proud to lead this effort to recognize the contributions of farm families.

Profiles of the 2012 honorees and information on the recognition event can be found on the University's farm family website at