It sounds like such a simple question, but really it’s not. Lately some of our friends and family have come to refer to our “farm” in Texas. For whatever reason, I find this absolutely endearing and it always makes me smile. But it also makes me wonder, do we actually have a farm? Really, already? It reminds me that I’ve been wondering for some time now, what exactly is a farm?
Sure we have chickens, loads of eggs, we trap some wild hogs when they’re around, and our gardens are looking more promising with each passing season, but at this point we are still only spending money, and a good deal of it. Wouldn’t calling this a farm entail that we are earning money?
Actually no I’ve come to discover, hobby farms, still a growing trend, account for more than half of the registered farms in the U.S., according to a 2007 article in Time magazine, and these farms are known for making little to no profit. Who would have thought that by moving to the middle of nowhere we were actually being trendy? I can assure you, at the time, we had no idea!
In one article it’s noted that this change in farm demographics means the statistics can be misleading. “While these properties make up almost 60 percent of U.S. farms, they account for less than 10 percent of agricultural sales.” This same article also says that the farming families today look more like something out of Green Acres than Little House on the Prairie. That sounds a bit more like us. Because we are making no money we haven’t filled out the paperwork required to”officially” be called a farm, hobby or otherwise, and it just so happens that the mounds of paperwork and confusing regulations are the biggest complaints of small farmers. It wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to guess that one I suppose.
We knew some oyster farmers in Alaska who used to say, it’s not so much a job as it is a lifestyle. We would have to agree with that. Lisa Hamilton’s Deeply Rooted: Unconventional Farmers in the Age of Agribusiness published in 2009 shares the stories of three farmers whose mentality also seems to mirror our own. The first is a dairy farmer in Sulphur Springs, TX named Harry Lewis, who said he learned from his dad that “. . . you worked not to be rich, but to be free.” That sounds like a great summation of what we’re trying to do out here.
Hamilton’s highly engaging book reads more like fiction, but is also well-researched and offers some interesting statistics to ponder:
- More than half of all farmers and ranchers today work “off farm,” most of them full-time.
- Since WWII our population’s percentage of income spent on food has dropped by half.
- In the 1950s farmers received $.41 for every retail dollar spent on food, which now averages $. 19
I’m not making any judgments as to whether this is a good or a bad thing, because as with most complicated topics, there are multiple angles to consider. But I have been able to garner one small fact from all this research I’ve been doing: It would appear that we do indeed have a farm. Sort of.
But what’s even more fascinating to me is, if this is a farm, well then that must make us farmers. Wow. If my friends could see me now!