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Are You a Farmer?

I was scrolling through my newsfeed recently and came across an article called “Celebrities You Didn’t Know Were Farmers.”  I took the headline’s bait and clicked on the article. 

It didn’t take long to realize the article’s author and I have different definitions of farmer.  Most of the celebrities mentioned own chickens and use the eggs in their own cooking.  Some had goats or a horse.  One was identified as selling produce to local restaurants.

The celebrity farmer that caused me to pause was the photo of a “farmer” with their one chicken.

Since when did having one chicken make someone a farmer?  If that is the criteria, when I grew two tomato plants in the flower beds around my house, I was a farmer too. 

Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a farmer as “a person who cultivates land or crops or raises animals (such as livestock or fish).”  Using that definition, I might stretch it so this celebrity and I could have the title of Farmer.

If you ask the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Economic Resource Service, neither the celebrity nor my operation would qualify as a farm. USDA defines a farm as “any place from which $1,000 or more of agricultural products were produced and sold, or normally would have been sold, during the year.”  I know my two tomato plants would not have produced enough fruit to put $1,000 in my pocket. While I can’t say for sure, I don’t think one chicken could produce enough eggs to meet that monetary amount either. If we don’t quality as a farm, I don’t think we should be called a farmer. 

I have toured .5-acre tomato farms.  I have toured 200-acre tomato farms.  I can tell you that growing two plants didn’t begin to compare to what actually happens on a farm.  

Picking Tomatoes

I recently visited a North Carolina produce farm on a food bloggers tour I coordinated as part of my day job.  The farmer invited us to join her tomato picking crew. The farm is GAP (Good Agriculture Practices)-certified: This is a yearly food safety audit that verifies a farm is following best practices to minimize food safety risks. Before entering the field, we had to disinfect our shoes and wash our hands. Each of us strapped on a basket that could not touch the ground. You can see me wearing a basket earlier in this post. Any tomatoes that fell on the plastic or ground were left there.  Per food safety guidelines, once a tomato hits the ground it can not become part of the food chain.  Even if the ground is covered with plastic. 

I can tell you that if I dropped a tomato on the ground at home, it would still go in my harvest bucket, because the five-second rule applies in the house and in the garden.  My bucket, or box, would be sitting on the ground.  My shoes never get disinfected.  

If my tomato plants didn’t produce, I could go to the farmers market or grocery store and buy some. If a farmer’s plants don’t produce, he or she doesn’t get paid. 

When I get the chicken coop in my backyard set up and order the three chickens it has room for, I won’t consider myself a chicken farmer. I’ve visited farms that raise chickens using different housing methods, and having three birds will not put me on par with any of those farms.

Is someone with one chicken being called a farmer even important? I think it is. With all the discussion about how food is grown and food animals are raised, connecting with farmers is more important than ever. I might have thought I understood tomato farming after raising my two plants, but I can tell you after talking to a tomato farmer for five minutes, I didn’t have a clue. I was growing those plants as a hobby; farmers do it for their livelihood. 

Right after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas and Louisiana, I attended a Feed the Dialogue event, which featured a panel of farmers. When responding to a question about challenges facing farmers, one panelist made the comment (which I’ve summarized here):

                       “If you live in town, it may be an inconvenience if you get rain. If you are on the farm and get flooded, it can change your outlook and what you do for the next two to three years.”

With that thought in mind, when I was growing two tomato plants, I was a gardener, not a farmer. I don’t think that celebrity with one chicken is a farmer either.

What do you think separates a farmer from a gardener?

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