Saturday, June 18, 2011

faking it

Ben Hewitt, the homesteading author of The Town That Food Saved, posted this on his blog yesterday and it is wonderful. A perfect example of the kind of perception many small-scale food producers get from larger operations. I liked his take on it, and wanted to share it.

Faking it By Ben Hewitt
Not so long ago, I was at the home of a real farmer. I know he was a real farmer, because he told me so. The implication, I believe (though I can’t be sure) was that I am not a real farmer, because I do not earn all or even the majority of my living from a farming enterprise. For what it’s worth, this is not the first person I’ve heard articulate such a belief. Or even the third.

Leaving aside the question of why it even matters who is and who is not a real farmer, and why anyone would feel compelled to claim such a title for him or herself, I couldn’t help but ponder what factors must be present to make a farmer real.

I’m pretty sure our neighbor’s definition is income-based. That is, if you make your living “farming,” then you are a “real farmer.” Fair enough, I suppose. But I know this person’s enterprise pretty well; I know that his family purchases the vast majority of their food at a retail outlet. I know that they don’t keep a garden, or process any of the milk they produce into butter or cheese or yogurt. They don’t raise their own meat. What they do, basically, is specialize in the production of a single food (milk), which they primarily sell in bulk. This arrangement provides them with the money necessary to purchase the essentials they do not produce for themselves. This is, in his mind at least, real farming.

Last year I was at a book talk, and someone asked me how much of my income is derived from our farm. “Oh, not much,” I answered, because it’s not. Most years, it’s not much more than 15%.

“But did you include the food you grow for your family in that figure?” He asked.

Well, no, actually. I hadn’t.... Click this to read the rest on Ben's Blog


Blogger From the Country Farm said...

His thoughts mirror my own and will check out the rest of his post. Thanks Jenna for the link!

June 18, 2011 at 8:32 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I sure am glad I know a real farmer named Jenna.

June 18, 2011 at 8:42 AM  
Blogger Karen said...

Thank you for introducing me to Ben Hewitt's writing. Another blog to check on daily, along with cold antler farm!

June 18, 2011 at 9:33 AM  
Blogger Diane Hannon Allman said...

I loved the last sentence!!!!!! Awesome post!

June 18, 2011 at 10:03 AM  
Blogger jim said...

we do not have to live up to anyone's expectations other then our own- Webster printed a dictionary because everyones interuptations of everything were different. You're a farmer Jenna in my eyes, it's all in the eyes of the beholder. Go girl-

June 18, 2011 at 10:18 AM  
Blogger Paula said...

"In any case, I am struck by the irony that we seem to have arrived at a definition of “real farmer” that is rooted in money, rather than food."

So-called farming is now rooted in money- that's why they call it agribusiness, not farming. So maybe the definition of farmer should change to include those people who grow most of their own food, or even a portion of it, and the moniker attached to people who monocrop, including running a large herd of dairy cattle, and who buy all their food from a grocery store should be known as 'agribusinessmen'.

In any case, I would not call myself a farmer. I'm just a gardener, trying to teach myself how to feed myself out of my backyard. But I do consider what I'm doing as farming the yard, because that's pretty much the whole intent of the yard. Food production. I even have a couple of food crops (albeit very young ones) in the front yard in the shape of four tea plants (Camellia sinensis) and two olive trees. And that will probably change as I get better at this.

But I have learned in the couple of years I've been doing this that farming is hard work. Really hard work.

Thanks for sharing this Jenna.

June 18, 2011 at 12:04 PM  
Blogger admin said...

Nice ponderings—the idea of classifying…. What I've always found it ironic that most "farmers" I've known buy most of their staples, even if there are means to come across it right in the back lot (thinking of a neighbor I had who ran over 300 black baldies and angus calf cow pairs and still bought his new yorks at the local grocery store, go figure). Right now I would starve or at least lose a lot of weight if I had to live off the toil of my own hands, although I’m hoping to get where I can supplement things pretty well soon, but someday that’s the ambition anyway.

Thanks for sharing Jenna, will be checking out this author some more.

June 18, 2011 at 12:17 PM  
Blogger Jenna Woginrich said...

I like very much how he compared money to food, and how "farmer" means you pay for your groceries at the store without a day job because you sell a product ou can't even consume.

I think as things change, economically and energy wise, there will be a lot less of that kind of "farmer"

June 18, 2011 at 1:09 PM  
Blogger Jeremy said...

I know what the person is getting at, but to me it is a bit of bunk. Let me get up onto my soapbox and explain.

I grew up on a Dairy Farm, and we also had a large farm garden, and raised our own pork and beef.

Those days have mostly gone by the wayside. There are very few herdsman left in Addison County that milk their own cows anymore. They aren't farming, they are running a business. Half of 'em spend the entire day with a pickup truck strapped to their ass.

Our farm went out in 2002, I went off to Engineering School, and my Cousin was a sports writer in NY. My dad and uncle were in their 50's and my grandfather had passed on. It was time to sell to a new family. But I am very proud of my Dad and Uncle in that they ALWAYS milked their own cows. When we sold it, they had one of the best managed herds in the county.

One good point though, a New father and son milk and farm the same 500 acres. My father and mother live next to my uncle on a small piece they carved off, and we still snowshoe and ski the old trails every winter.

A farmer is anyone willing to do what they can with what land and animals they have. I have a lot more respect for somebody working 40 hours a week and then trying to raise a bit on the side, then someone driving around the county in a brand new pickup truck while others milk their herd, talking about how now that they have run out half the farms in the county, we finally need production controls.

Farming will be changing in the next couple decades, and it needs to big time. We have made it into a business instead of a life and thats bad for the people, bad for the animals, and bad for the land.

June 18, 2011 at 1:39 PM  
Blogger sheila said...

Hi Jenna,
I posted this response over on Ben Hewitt's site, but wanted to comment here also.....

Real farming... the kind of farm where you buy everything you need at retail prices and then sell what you produce at wholesale prices. Real dumb farming is what I call it. I am free to say this because I was once one of those farmers (milked 50 cows 2 twice a day) until I finally figured out how dumb that was.

June 18, 2011 at 4:57 PM  
Blogger jim said...

jeremy-you pretty well summed it up-

June 18, 2011 at 10:29 PM  
Blogger Jen ( said...

Thanks so much for this excerpt. I don't like to label myself with anything (not even a gardener!), but perhaps I should start thinking about how much of my yard (I live in town) is dedicated to food and how much of that sustains our family year-round!

I'm not a farmer, but one of my recent posts is about this subject and maybe I really am an urban homesteader. :)

June 19, 2011 at 4:31 AM  
Blogger finnsheep said...

" What they do, basically, is specialize in the production of a single food (milk),....."

I would strongly disagree with the notion that they are just making milk.

Except for dairies I have seen in the Southwest and maybe CA, I don't know of any dairy farmers who do not grow most of the feed for their dairy cows. They usually grow a lot of corn, some grow soybeans, alfalfa and hay and grass if they pasture the cows. The work may not give them time to have a garden. They are tied to field work, milking and calf raising seven days a week.

They are also the front part of the chain that results in most of the hamburg on people's plates in the USA. All those male calves that are born each year are raised out and finished either as veal or 18 month old beef. Many dairymen breed first calf heifers to Angus bulls so that the calf will be smaller and easier to give birth to. We have raised some of them ourselves, bought from dairy farmers.

There is room for all kinds of farmers - - large scale and small. Nobody who grows food for himself or others needs to be dumped on because they don't do what someone else thinks they should.

June 19, 2011 at 10:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


First, a HUGE thanks to Jenna for posting this, and to all who've stopped by my humble blog. Lots of interesting comments.

Finnsheep, I can't quite figure out why you think I'm dumping on this person. He and his family operate a wonderful dairy farm and are great people. Friends of ours, even.

I'm not judging them for not producing more of their own food. It's just interesting to me how we seem as a culture to have decided that "real farming" requires a monetary exchange.

Nor do I care if anyone thinks of me as a real farmer. My family and I do what we do. We love it. That's pretty much all that matters to us.


June 19, 2011 at 12:52 PM  
Blogger doglady said...


June 19, 2011 at 5:32 PM  
Blogger doglady said...

I saw the disconnect between farming and producing your own food in the 50's when I was a kid. The young adults of that era had survived the Great Depression and being able to purchase your family's food at the grocery store meant you had money and didn't "have" to grow your own. Dairy farmers did well and didn't even keep their own chickens or have a garden. The people who did have a garden were thought of as not being able to afford the grocery store. How sad is that?

June 19, 2011 at 5:36 PM  

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