Quick, shoot from the hip: what is your definition of a real farmer?
If you said a 60-year-old white guy with 20,000 acres and a wrap-around porch, I agree with you. That is a definition of a real farmer, but it’s not the only definition of a real farmer.
“The people selling produce at farmers’ markets aren’t real farmers,” is the statement that got me to thinking about this question.
Not so very long ago, I would have firmly stated that to be considered a “real” farmer or rancher, you had to be growing crops or raising livestock as your living. That part-timers didn’t really count. That if you weren’t farming or ranching on a big scale, then it wasn’t really farming or ranching.
What a bunch of hooey.
I will always have a special connection to the big cow-calf ranching way of life. I was lucky enough to have parents who did raise cattle for their full-time jobs, and it is the dream I aspire to. But it’s not the only way, and all the other ways that don’t fall in the realm of traditional agriculture are important as well.Why can’t a real farmer be a person who has a job in town and works his land in the evenings and on the weekends? Why can’t a real rancher be a person who takes vacation days to tend to her cattle when they get sick? In what way is a lady who raises a small herd of grass-fed beef or a man who sells vegetables at the farmers’ market not a part of our food system? Isn’t that what farming and ranching is all about? The business of growing food for others as well as ourselves?
I still have so much to learn about agriculture. I have a lot of experience with beef cattle, but I know very little about dairies. We had a great big garden when I was growing up, but I don’t know what it’s like growing potatoes, almonds or apples on a larger scale.
But if there is one thing I have learned, it’s this: Don’t put agriculture in a box. It won’t fit, and you’ll wear yourself out trying to do so.