What is a real farmer?

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.

Starting tomato plants in an egg carton, gardening

Starting my tomato plants from seeds in an egg carton.

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.


  1. Great post!

  2. Robin Rastani says:

    So true? Love the words & passion behind it!

  3. Thank you for this post! I was raised in the Sandhills of Nebraska “Cowboy Country” and my boyfriend was raised in the eastern side of the state “Farmer Country”. The culture difference has been a struggle sometimes, but overall, it is just the love of the country that keeps it working!

    • Very well put, Laci. There’s a space between cowboys and farmers, but you’re absolutely right – country is the common thread.


  1. […] AM A FARMER! Okay. I’m not. Starting 12 tomato plants indoors is not farming (though the definition of what a real farmer is can be many different things), but I am growing things. There is something so darn cool about […]

Leave a comment: