are you a “real” farmer?
For the winter solstice, a couple of farmer friends and I gathered around a campfire and sent the bad bits of 2011 on their merry way. Simply put, we wrote things we wanted to let go of on pieces of paper, tossed them in the fire, and watched them burn. It was both therapeutic and interesting to hear what everyone wanted to change for the new year. One of the things it turned out we’d all struggled with — and wanted to move past — was the concept that we’re not “Real Farmers.”
Now, let’s be clear. All three of us are farmers. But because a couple of us have part-time off-farm jobs… because one of us works for other farms…. because we’re women, and sometimes we like to dress up… because we all own livestock, but none of us own livestock on a Big Ag Commercial Scale… because we don’t make enough money farming to put in an IRA account (what farmer does?)… because certain circumstances in our lives helped us or guided us to become farmers… there’s this societal (and personal) sense that we’re not “Real Farmers.”
As an aside, I’d like to blame the Tea Party and maybe country music for the the aggravating overuse of the word “real.” We’re not just “keeping it real” anymore like we were in the 1990s. These days, you have to go out of your way to prove that you’re a “real” person (as opposed to what, I’m not entirely sure — an automaton? a Stepford wife?). And I’ve got some news for you: it’s not easy being a real person. While they’ve stopped short of insisting that you have to be a coal miner, coroner or mother of nine (and foster mother to 20), it is very clear that you may not be a news reporter, a well educated person, happy, or live in California. Making me one giant fake Fail.
The trouble is, this culture of “are you real” can undermine one’s sense of self worth and even identity. In case you have the same niggling doubts my friends and I did, I’ve come up with a list of criteria for being a “real” farmer. Consider this your Redneck Cosmo quiz. If you answer ‘yes’ to any of the following questions, YOU ARE A REAL FARMER. Period. And if anyone tells you otherwise — or even looks at you askance — send them over to me. I’ll kick them in the nuts for you.
~The Real Farmer Quiz~
Do you grow enough food to provide for much of what you or your family eats?
Do you grow food specifically to sell, share or trade with others?
Have you driven more than 10 cumulative miles on a tractor?
Do you own copious amounts of row cover?
Do you like to smell your own compost?
Have you stayed up all night with a laboring or sick cow, goat, or sheep?
Has your livestock guard dog ever eaten one of your chickens/goats/sheep/cows?
Are you regularly responsible for cleaning inordinate amounts of animal feces out of some sort of animal dwelling?
Do you milk a dairy animal on a regular basis?
Do you have bales of orchard grass, alfalfa, or oat hay currently in your possession?
Do you have outdoor-only “working cats” who patrol your barns or feed bins?
Do you have a hard time finding a house-sitter because of the strange “pets” you have — i.e., goats, chickens, bees?
Does it bother you less and less when chickens die?
Have you ever repositioned a kid, lamb or calf before it was born?
If you answered “yes” to any one of the previous questions, congratulations. You’re a real farmer.
**NOTE: Answering ‘yes’ to more than one question does not make you more of a farmer than somebody else. ‘Cuz that’s not how we farmers roll. We’re egalitarian, yo.