Thursday, March 20, 2014

On Being a Farmer

It's spring, and that means the internet's thoughts have turned to farming.  It seems everywhere I turn, I'm reading an article about large family farms, reading one about urban farmers with container gardens, or getting into conversations with farmers about the meaning and purpose of farming.  And one point that stands out to me is the inconsistent use of the term.

Farming is a bit like writing, in that there is no specific college degree, apprenticeship program, or state license that is required to practice your craft.  Unlike doctors and lawyers, farmers and writers can pretty much metaphorically hang up their shingle, and no one can argue with them about about their job.  On the other hand, that means everyone and their cousin thinks they can do it well.

I've seen and heard commentary from large-scale farmers that one has to really operate at a significant size to be considered a farmer.  You know, the whole deal:  acreage, livestock, tractor, and the like.  And these folks have a point:  it is hard to look at a Manhattan stock broker with a few containers on the terrace and consider that person a farmer in the same way as someone whose income depends on working the land.

On the other hand, I am encouraged by these terrace, backyard, and rooftop farmers, because they have embraced food production as a passion no less intense than that felt by the farmer with many acres and pieces of equipment.  To make the effort to label something "farming" -- backyard farming, mini-farming, urban farming -- is to intellectually throw your lot in with those who produce the majority of the food for this country and to take responsibility for its quality.

You will note that in this blog I try to use the term "micro-farmer."  With tongue firmly in cheek, I'm trying to acknowledge that I know our acreage isn't large and I know the majority of our income comes from elsewhere, but that our efforts are an important part of the provision of food in this country.  At my college at which I am an adjunct, there are a great number of micro-farmers, and I love the intensity with which they all worry about how soon they can work the dirt and how big a crop of squash or tomatoes they are getting.  For a while, there was even a rogue crop of tomatoes growing out near the bike racks that produced enough tomatoes for a regular batch of salsa.

So, let me propose a new definition of "farmer" that I hope will please those with everything from square acres to square inches:  A farmer is someone who takes responsibility for food production.  Whether you feel called to produce food for many or just for your own family, you are contributing your time and industry to growing or raising the food this country depends on.  You are helping decide the quality of the food that you and others put in their bodies.  You are creating something tangible the world needs.

This passion shouldn't be limited by size or by income stream.  It is everyone's responsibility to contribute to food production if our society is to be sustainable in the long term.

Are you a farmer?
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  1. It would be interesting to see what would happen if the large production farmer traded stocks in his 'spare time' and told the stock trader that he also is a stock trader! It goes both ways, I guess.

    1. Yes, and I would argue that he could do so. The hobbiest stock trader who wants to have some skin in the game deserves respect for the work that goes into following the market and participating in an aspect of a capitalist economy. He just doesn't earn his living from stock trading.

      Honestly, what I've done over the years is append the term "professional" to my job title when it is important that people know that I do a certain thing for a living. So, I may say in certain contexts that I'm a "professional writer." Most of the time, however, I don't. Farmers and stock brokers could do the same if the situation warranted.

      Thanks for weighing in! Come back soon!