What is a Farm? What is a Farmer?


A photo of KateOver the past few weeks I have come across several people talking about farming in a variety of different ways and some assumptions as to what a 'real' farmer really is.

The Superbowl commercial for Dodge trucks was terrific and highlighted some great farm scenes, but with the exception of a road side fruit and vegetable stand, these were large farms with acres of corn or livestock. There is no doubt that these are farmers.

Several weeks ago, my guest on my radio show (America's Home Grown Veggie Show) was Dr Luis Ribera, an agricultural economist from Texas A&M. When he graduated he too thought of farming in that same vein and could quote how many dollars per acres you could get from an acre of cotton, wheat etc. Then he worked on a grant that looked at small multi-crop businesses, many on less than 5 acres - could these families really make a living - estimated as $25K net - with that model of farming. Apparently no one had looked into the issue because perhaps they were not 'real farmers'. Turns out that these people do indeed produce food for the family, CSAs, farm market stands and local restaurants and they put many hours of hard labor into the work. This was far more than a hobby as Luis had assumed, and therefore should be classed as a farmer.

Another guest last week, had a different take on the issue. Peter Bane wrote the Permaculture Handbook and introduced me to a new term the Farmer-Gardener which perhaps takes in a broader group of growers and perhaps could be looked at as a sliding scale from hobby gardener with just a few tomato plants, to the full scale market gardener/farmer.

Finally I just finished reading City Farm by Novella Carpenter. Novella chronicles her life building a farm in a run down corner in the city of Oakland, CA. area. Starting with a field of weeds on an abandoned lot next door, Novella clears the lot, adds vegetables, fruit trees, bees, chickens, turkeys, ducks, rabbits and finally pigs. Her plan is to become self sufficient and to do that she feels the need to personally, and humanely, slaughter the animals as needed for food. Without doing this part it seems that she didn't feel as though the world would look at the farm as a 'real farm' or look at her as a 'real farmer'. 

So are all these people farming and farmers or are they a different category?  Homesteaders are a popular term used but I really wonder if some people are stuck with the idea that 'real farmers' are those depicted in the Superbowl commercial - and the rest of us are ..what...... not real farmers, or just playing at growing food, or...... 

2/27/2013 7:04:30 PM

Kate, yes, indeed give me a heads up. dbentz24(at)gmail.com

Kate Copsey
2/27/2013 1:42:53 PM

Dave - like you I loved the book. I have Novella as a guest on the show next month and will give you a heads-up for the show if you would like. Farming/farmers is indeed a tough term and I think the model of large monoculture being the only farmer has indeed changed to be inclusive of many forms of farming.

2/8/2013 1:41:39 AM

Kate, the term farmer is becoming a little hard to define in the grass roots homesteading culture. Does it really mean that an income must be made from the acreage or can it mean just the simple life of country living. I'm not sure that farming is just large scale any more. City Farm by Novella Carpenter was a captivating book. I could hardly put down the book. It was such a real life down to nitty gritty descriptions of what she did to turn the empty weed infected lot into a thriving Urban farm simply with a little work and daily raids on the restaurant dumpsters. It made me sad when she had to move and start all over again. The whole respect for the pig's life and slaughter issue was very interesting, don't you think? Have a great farmer day.

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