A Field Guide To Farmers


Now that farmer-watching has become more popular than bird-watching, urban people need a way to help them distinguish between the various breeds in case they want to rent one, or buy one for a personal pet. Farmers actually resemble other members of the human race in most respects. They walk upright if there is no wheeled vehicle available to ride, have cell phones hanging on their ears most of the time, and feed at short order restaurants more than in their natural environment of open fields.

Like the ivory-billed woodpecker, farmer numbers are decreasing because of urban encroachment on their natural habitat. Little is known about their behavior because they shun the public eye whenever possible. No one has heard their mating call although it is presumed that they do mate because, although the ones most often seen are well above the average breeding age, an immature farmer is occasionally spotted, flitting and fluttering around the giant tractors in which farmers like to nest.

Zoologists distinguish several sub-types of the species, among them the Big Farmer, Hobby Farmer, Part-time Farmer, Dirt Farmer, Mockingfarmer, and the Debt-Ridden Ground Grabber.

The male Ground Grabber is best identified by his red plumage reminiscent of red-headed woodpeckers. But the real high flyers are so far in the red that they look more like cardinals. The Ground Grabber is very territorial, trying his best to stake out for himself enough land so he can plant it during the spring migration going north and then harvest it going south in the fall.

A Big Farmer is anyone who farms more land than the farmer you are talking to.

Hobby Farmers make their living doing something else and farm because they think of it as fun, if you can imagine that.  As soon as they learn how to raise a bushel of zucchini successfully, they feel obliged to tell Ground Grabbers how to grow a hundred thousand bushels of soybeans.

Part-time Farmers differ from Hobby Farmers in that they no longer think farming is all that much fun. They need to make some money at it now. They work very hard at their other job to pay for their farming habit. It is hard to buy or rent a purebred Part-timer anymore because even most Big Farmers have another source of income so they can buy gas for their motor homes and lake cruisers between planting and harvest when cash is in short supply.

The Dirt Farmer is embarrassed to learn that because of land inflation and subsidies, he is suddenly a millionaire several times over. He never planned for that and does not want a motor home or a lake cruiser. He goes around in bib overalls, making remarks like  “ain’t them sixty row corn planters purty” to make salespeople think he is stupid, and proudly waves the flag of capitalism while accepting millions of dollars of welfare capital from the government.  However, the Dirt Farmer contributes greatly to the well-being of the food supply by studiously ignoring well-meaning experts who criticize the way he farms.

Mockingfarmers grow bib overalls only as summer plumage but can be distinguished from Dirt Farmers because they like to feed on street corners and at university symposiums where Dirt Farmers rarely show up.  (Dirt Farmers suspect that symposiums are places you go to watch dirty dancing.)  Mockingfarmers are often the adult offspring of the urban rich, playing a game called Mockfarming. However they do a lot of public relations good for agriculture because they know how to talk to city dwellers. When the New York Times sends one of its crack reporters out to Windy Plains, Kansas, to get real grassroots reactions, the reporter invariably runs into a Mockingfarmer who takes him to the nearest bar and fills his recorder with grandly quotable remarks as long as the reporter will keep buying the beer.

The Tax Farmer is a rich investor who thinks he can cheat Uncle out of paying his taxes by investing in farm land. The real payoff for a Tax Farmer is to be able to refer to his investment as “my farm” while talking to fellow surgeons or fellow NBA stars. The ultimate in worldly success is to be able to say, “my farms.” The Tax Farmer is the only kind who really benefits from subsidies but gravy money only means he will eventually have to pay more taxes. Uncle understands this very well.

(An earlier version of this piece appeared in The New Farm magazine in December, 1979 under a pen name, Chester White. The editor did not want me to use my real name because I was on the staff and he feared I would alienate the entire readership.)  


I used to be a part-time farmer, but I made so much money that I retired and sold the farm. I now do telemarketing as a way to launder all my millions.

You all are really hilarious and terrific. Love ya all. Gene Logsdon

I’m a hobby farmer that hasn’t learned enough to start telling real farmers what to do yet. I’m working on it…the zucchinis that is…

They have certainly migrated to the Pacific Northwest. They can be recognized by their shrill call of “sustainability, sustainability!” (Mostly when referring to the lack thereof on someone else’s farm.” Didn’t realize they were an invasive species.

This is a pretty funny post. It’s been raining and I’ve run into quite a few farmers today. I keep categorizing them and laughing to myself.

An alternative name to Chester White could have been Land Race; along with the word play, landrace is the ultimate contrarian hog, having an uncanny ability to read someone’s mind and do the exact opposite of the desired action. Ears flopped over the eyes, so eye contact was impossible, as was negotiation. It was designed to inflict pain!

I’ve matured into a Pot Bellied Bibber. No need for description, we’re all over the place. Tuesday evening I was pushing a grocery cart and came upon another of my species. When he saw me, he squinted his eyes and asked me if I was an old farmer. Sumbitch! After a minute of conversation it was obvious we had lived parallel lives 90 miles apart, even had the same kinds of jobs after realizing we weren’t rich enough to farm (maintenance). Since he had grown up here, he started telling me where the creamery, and the hatchery, had been located from the grocery in this small town. Every small town used to have those businesses. Not to be confused with the stylish bibber, which is actually related to the ultra urban wannabe. If you watch a pot bellied bibber walk, they move like they’re on plowed ground and are not graceful. Pot bellied bibbers have been known to co-mingle with those church of the latter day hippies, with interesting results. The dood abides!

Truly one of your best! Keep it up, Gene, there are plenty of us out there whom you inspire.

I don’t know if it has migrated to the U.S. yet, or maybe it is spotted occasionally, but in Europe, they also have the Vituperating Farmer, subspecies Traditional, who releases hectoliters of milk in the fields and throws cartloads of manure in front of the prefecture buildings, and subspecies Activist, usually engaged in organic or young farmers associations and laying out farming politics for the future.

Don’t forget the Bottom Scrapers—those of us who try to hang on economically while farming too little land by means of ancient implements, sweat, baling wire, and coddling 12 year old dairy cows. My butt actually does scrape the ground, but that probably has to do with the a tendency to fall off hay wagons, slip in manure, and weed while sitting in the dirt.

There’s one more, Chester (tell me, did anyone on the magazine ask you about that choice of pseudonym?). You will find it in the wilds of California, often in the Berkeley region. It grows squash and tomatoes on pavement in raised beds, with a few herbs and marigolds thrown in. Then it flies off to Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s to pick up the organically grown chicken to serve with the three tomatoes it got from its six tomato plants. It’s called the Ultra Urban Wannabe, and you can recognize it easily by its Gap jeans.

I am enjoying these additional species and sub-species. One I discovered is the Old Flinch. It takes years of obsevation, but occasionally the youthful plumage that is used to identify species can change years later such that true identification ends up being that of an Old Flinch. I am personally well acquainted with an early identified D-R Land Grabber that got kicked out of his nest and reappeared years later as an OF. OFs are best identified by their tri-part call “Hmm – Bll – Pii” and are often found to be rather friendly but bewildered at how they or anyone else could have ever taken themselves so seriously.

You forgot the the Farmer of the Church of the Latter Day Hippy. It mostly squats on marginal public land in brightly-coloured tie-dye plumage in its habitat of old rusted-out school busses or derelict camping trailers.

The LDH Farmer’s favourite crop is the Weed. This crop comes in two types: one is carefully tended and produces copious amounts of cash, but when ceremoniously burned and inhaled, it generally allows the other type of Weed to take over all the other crops in sight, until they are out-of-sight.

The LDH Farmer’s autumn seasonal call is “Dood, it’s almost winter — where did we plant the squash?” But sometimes heard, is “Dood, it’s cold and wet — let’s go to Baja until spring!” (The various LDH calls almost always start with the plaintive cry, “Dood!”)

Chester White? I would say you are definitely an Ohio Improved Chester. There were more belly laughs per line in that piece than anything I’ve read for a long time. Uncomfortable truth underlies almost all great humor and you nailed it. Debt-Ridden Ground Grabber, I love it!

So in what category do you place yourself? I’m somewhere between Hobby- and Part-Time farming. Can’t afford a motorhome or sailboat, but sure would like some small-scale haying equipment!

Hmmm. I am a PartDirt MockHobby Farmer I think. I think farming is fun and sometimes that it isn’t. I occasionally do the educated speaking thing, but can say “ain’t” and spit with my neighboring hillbilly friends. I don’t make much money, sometimes none, so Uncle Sam thinks I’m a hobbyist, but I do feed two people a good bit of the time and give eggs to all my neighbors.

You did miss one category…the “Real Farmer” which is what people who call me to buy livestock often say just before I tell them the price and they hang up.


Don’t forget the Rust Colored Bottom feeder! Off brand mid 1970’s farm equipment. Grumpy disposition, habitat is farm auctions and wet and/or hilly ground. May have one brand new piece of farm equipment that he uses to work for all the other farmers but rarely gets his farm planted on time. (often because it is a swamp)
Enjoys a certain status among other farmers as an object of entertainment. Is sometimes thrown crumbs of small irregular shaped fields so that other farmers can feel charitable.

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