Yo! Farmer Dude!

Front Porch Republic

[…] The word “farming” means something, and its meaning is not “gardening,” and it’s not “puttering,” and it’s not “edible landscaping.” As small farm advocate Mary Berry Smith likes to emphasize, farming must mean (among many other obvious things, like real work) putting equity at risk.

Years ago my friend “Dan,” who has farmed all his life, including running a dairy as a teenager and raising tobacco, took on a second job of selling real estate in order to bring in some extra income. Everybody knows what you’re doing in a small town, and it wasn’t long before some neighbor at the coffee shop twitted him about being a realtor and not a farmer anymore.

It was an unfair remark, but it showed how country people feel about anyone they can accuse of lack of seriousness. To call yourself a farmer without having earned the title is, in this small community at least (and I suspect in many others), not done. My husband and I have made plenty of social mistakes in Henry County, but we have never insulted our neighbors by calling ourselves farmers. We have run cattle, and we have lived on a farm, and my husband has done plenty of tobacco work, calf pulling, and haycutting; but the semantics are important. Rural people don’t appreciate the pretentions of those who want to wear the mantle of Berrylike back-to-the-landedness without sweating for it—physically and financially…

Calling our gardening hobby a “farm” and ourselves “farmers” is a way for us to fool ourselves that we are doing something more socially significant than we are—that we are part of a movement towards national self-sufficiency and greener living. But four tomatoes will not improve your global footprint very much, and a few square feet of vegetables will hardly feed one person even in July. You who grow a large garden are probably not feeding more than your own family, and if that garden requires real work and earns your neighbors’ respect (and mine), it is still not a farm. Calling it one encourages us to imagine that we aren’t terribly short of farmers after all–when we are, and when we should be doing something about it…

I hate to say this, because I sound like the Vogue editor I heard on the radio in 2008, who like our former president believed we had a moral obligation to shop our way out of recession, but you will do more for American farming by patronizing your local farmers’ market regularly than by any personal effort at “urban farming.” My comfort is that many patio tomato growers know this perfectly well…

Complete article here

[A commenter to the original post counters… What do you think? -DS]

This is the dumbest essay ever posted on FPR. Apparently if I mortgage my grandchildren up to their heads I can start “farming” hundreds of acres of the same two crops every year, operating factory-like machines that will be obsolete just as soon as gas hits $6 per gallon. Then I can be a farmer. Of course, when gas does hit $6 per gallon, I won’t be “farming” for long.

What about that rich history of small family farms that operated more for self-sufficiency than for the marketplace? Were they farmers? I guess since they were not being patronized at the farmer’s market they don’t count. Especially since many of them did a whole variety of work in addition to working their farms, they just don’t deserve the title. Who did they think they are, calling themselves farmers, when they sometimes picked up jobs for extra income? How many days per week were they getting dirty? That’s what I want to know!

In any event, yes, let us discourage people from becoming increasingly self-sufficient. Because, as everyone knows, if you can’t transition yourself into full-fledged farming overnight then you shouldn’t bother. Just buy the stuff at the store, stupid, for that is the patriotic way.

Good grief…

This country is going to need a lot more farmers in the future. Current agricultural practices exercised by mainstream “farmers” are untenable. To even bother trying to distinguish between what counts as “true farming” is a tragic distraction from the core issue: we need more people working in agriculture, period.

Next time instead of writing this crap just go outside and plant something. Call yourself whatever the hell you want. You won’t hear two peeps out of me. ~Tom


I think I saw your point Budd- I’ll admit it hit my pride a bit, so there must be some truth to it. However, we should encourage a renewal in the archetype of farming, even if that means someone lives it out on a 30 x 100 city lot. I constantly have the feeling I’m doing something larger than myself whilst tending a 1/2 acre veggie garden, and while I can’t say I have four ripe tomatoes, the vision of truck farming looms in my mind, keeping me going in the beating sun, so maybe I can raise more and sell that surplus, or at very least, set a bar for next year. If you’re to take out the ideals, you’ll just about kill me. Vision needs severity at it’s edge (I am trying to bear the Berry mantle here), and in me, it takes such lunacy to carry on.

On one other hand, I don’t go about in cloth button overalls saying I farm for a living. If I did, the quiet people with common sense would sort me out pretty quick, but even so, it’s not prudent to fall prey to their judgements. If you’ve got the goods, that’s what matters.

Really appreciate your comments David, sounds like you’ve a good head thar. Gotta have spirit.

I just don’t get how people are so offended with that article. It is just semantics.
I see it more from this perspective.
I can call myself an astronaut and I can insist on my neighbor calling me an astronaut but it I don’t have a rocket or if I don’t work for NASA then even if my neighbors call me an astronaut they still will make fun of me behind my back.
Likewise, if you are a city type person who moves out to the country blows up the TV and raises Peaches and declares yourself to be a farmer you will be mocked.
In the country, you are given labels by your neighbors. Or you could say you earn the title of “farmer.”
If you grow vegetables on vacant lots in the city I suppose you are an “urban farmer.”
Oh, heck…
I don’t know. I stacked hay bales half the night (with an expensive machine-more farmer points/) and am a bit loopy and now I have lost my point but I typed enough that I don’t want to just delete it. Seems wasteful.
Um, don’t worry about labels. Don’t annoy your neighbors. Grow what ever you want for the sake of growing good food in whatever sized plot of land you want and if you want to call yourself a farmer I don’t care.
Just don’t ask me the same stupid question 15 times in a row because I will get sarcastic and please move all the crap out of the way when you ask me to deliver a stack of hay for your three goats, five chickens, 1 cow, 2 horses, and 2 pigs.
And no… offering me a beer won’t make me feel better, I can’t drink anything that could make me sleepy!
How about ice tea or an energy drink?
I guess I my own issues.

Webster’s Dictionary describes “farming” as:A tract of land set apart for cultivation or for other industries as dairy farm, etc.

Webster’s Dictionary describes a “tract” as:region of indefinite extent.

These days you have to dust off the books and Constitution to help those who do not understand what they are talking about.

I couldn’t stop thinking about this post. I was raised, one generation off the farm, by a mother who never admitted she married into a farming family. Those who “got off the farm” literally tried passing as regular suburban folk. No dirt under my nails, no sirree. Reclaiming the term “farmer” has much more to do with trends. It’s an integral part of our identity as people connected to the land that feeds us, as people reclaiming a path back to self-reliance, and as people taking the right to define ourselves as we choose.

I couldn’t help myself. I wrote a post in response to Ms. Dalton

Rachel, I think there’s what you do, and what I try to do (which is less), and then there’s the casual tossing around of the phrase “urban farming” and the magazine of that name which seems to promote (or at least to grab on to — I can’t quite tell) the idea of farming as hip and trendy and minimizes any actual work or mess or unpleasantness. There’s the marketing and the people who actually do it. I agree with you that actually attempting agriculture on any scale, in any location, is more likely to disabuse people of any fantasies they might have about farming than it is to send them crowing about how wonderful they are; it’s a straw man that takes that Triscuit campaign seriously. I hope, anyway. And I’m glad people like you are managing to do what you’re doing.

David, I hate the Triscuit box as well, but for a different reason. I find it incredibly hypocritical of them. A simple case, I guess, of greenwashing. They are promoting healthy living on a box of utter crap. Nabisco sells some of the worst foods you can find in the grocery store but for some reason this “home farming” campaign should make up for all of that.

I really don’t think urban farming makes people think that city folk are better than country folk. Every one of my friends that farm in the city, including us, want to live in the country and farm but we can’t due to limitations whether it’s family or the biggest one – being able to afford the land. By urban farming we do get to be a part, albeit small, of the food system and it makes us truly appreciate what those farmers in the country do on a much larger scale.

As for the amount of calories you can produce, I think we’re way too dependent on those cheap calories and that’s why we’ve got such a problem with obesity. We can’t live on corn and soy alone, but today’s industrial agriculture seems to think so. But I don’t think the amount of calories someone produces on their land qualifies them as a farmer or not. Would that mean that those that grow acres of lettuce aren’t real farmers?

We currently raise goats for meat and milk, chickens for meat and eggs, rabbits for meat, turkeys and ducks for meat and we have bees, which are the only ones that are regulated in our city – not banned, just regulated. Just because we live in the city doesn’t mean we can’t process our own meat animals. So we have meat, dairy and eggs covered. We grow some of our own animal forage as well as some grain (our flour corn stands at 8′ tall right now). But we focus on vegetables and fruits because a varied diet is the healthiest.

In our region of British Columbia, I don’t know of a single family other than the dairy farmers (we have supply marketing and thus a reasonable income for them) which has a single income. Are the rest hobbyists? Gardeners with 320 acres of forage and 31 beef cows?

I write a nature/wildlife column for a Canadian magazine, but it only pays $50/month. Am I a writer or something else?

My wife is an artist in fabric, both the design and execution of them. But she hardly gets paid. She works as a bookkeeper and gets paid. Is she a bookkeeper only? Or is she a quilter, a sewer, a fabric designer?

My son works for the fire protection department of a major North American city. He also plays trumpet in a regional band, for civic occasions, and in churches. I suppose I should tell him he is not a trumpeter.

Good grief.

I read that most farmers in the world are farming about three acres. On that three acres they feed their family and earn their entire income. I guess they must not be real farmers since they don’t have giant acreage, giant tractors, giant planters, giant harvesters, giant grain dryers and giant loan payments up their a$$. I think the article is full of B.S. and you farmers who have “earned the title farmer” know what that is.

You know, I was going to agree that this was over the top, and then I read the original article, and I am considerably more sympathetic. The Triscuit box sent me into a rant, too, very similar to this one, though I kept it confined to the kitchen table. I have been a believer in and promoter of suburban/urban agriculture for a decade now. But “urban farming” bothers me for two reasons. First, and primarily, it allows people in cities to go on believing that cities are superior to the countryside and that city people are superior to country people. If we can “farm” in the cities, we don’t need the country at all.

Second, and more particularly, what “urban farming” misses is the whole concept of calories. Except for a few eggs (whose layers will have to be kept through their retirement, because you can’t slaughter them for soup within city limits), there’s not much in the way of actual calories being produced in cities. I suppose it’s a symptom of just how cheap calories are in the US in 2011 that a lot of proponents of “farming” don’t even think about them. (Rachel, that is not directed at you; I don’t know you, and wouldn’t presume to criticize.) Unless we start growing corn and wheat on city lots, and either raising hogs or cattle or growing chickpeas and lentils, we’re not coming near to feeding ourselves with urban farming.

So I sympathize. But…

We do need more people engaged in agriculture (“period”), at all levels. Those “holes in our national patchwork quilt of farms” aren’t being filled from farming towns. My own hope is that micro-level activity in cities and suburbs can spark interests and sympathies that get people “back to the land” in a bigger and more serious way. I believe that’s more likely than that they’ll degrade the meaning of “farming” to the point that no one will want to do it — partly because I have to believe that, and partly because I don’t see how any movement or marketing campaign can do more to degrade the idea of farming than has already been done. A potted tomato plant just may be — if you’ll forgive the term — some kid’s gateway drug to “real” farming. He’ll have to learn how hard it is after he’s already hooked, or he’ll never start.

According to the state of Ohio (I don’t know if other states follow this rule) to aquire tax exemption as a farm you must produce a crop for resale. However, I agree with Budd. Call yourself what you like. I don’t think sitting in an air conditioned cab for 8 hours a day makes you a farmer either.
I wake up at dawn, get animals ready for the day (and usually fix a thing or two) then go to work for ten hours. I come home in the evening, check animals again, then plant or harvest or water or whatever needs doing until dark or after. Call me what you like I don’t care. I nurture soil and tend livestock. That’s all that matters to me.

I think you need to do what you need to do and not worry so much about labels. The farming community has social strata just like any other community. As a member of the “conventional” farming community I participate in poking a lot of fun at those folks who grow two acres of chard and then wear natural fiber clothing just to make a point and are very vocal about being “farmers”.
People who are calling attention to themselves whether they are Big Time Operators with giant diesel tractors and short pants or Sustainable folks in scratchy wool underwear are annoying to those of us who just want to get the field planted or the hay baled and go home and go to bed cause we’ve been up hours, or can’t sleep because of stress, or are just plain grumpy.
And that is my .02 cents.
(I say this as someone who has no status in the farming community, a bottom feeder with 30 year old farm equipment and constantly on the verge of going broke)

Oh my hell. The writer isn’t exactly clear about what makes a farmer so I find it hard to believe that they speak some unwritten truth. I’m proud to say I’m and urban farmer. My husband and I work our a$$es off to produce not only enough food for us to be self sustaining, but also for our neighbors. We’re working with our city to make it legal to sell food. But I guess because we don’t live in the country and have to have secondary jobs, we can’t call ourselves farmers. WTF-ever. I guess the 50% or so farmers out there that have to have secondary incomes just to make ends meet can’t call themselves farmers either. I’m sure they’ll be happy to know that.

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