It’s easy to categorize agricultural producers into one space, especially if you don’t know much about the field of work. The stereotypical vision of a farmer comes with a tractor, truck, corn and cows. It’s okay, we’ve all heard ‘farmer’ and had that image flash in our minds. It’s not incorrect. The truth just goes much deeper than that.
10 years ago, I didn’t know any better. More and more diverse peoples are being accepted into this industry and barriers to producing enough food for the world have been broken. There is an increasing need for caretakers of this land and its people. Whether you were born into a centennial farm, grew up to have a green thumb or have discovered you can make a community change with just a seed...you are welcomed and needed.
For some, farming is deeply ingrained in their heritage. My husband is a 7th generation farmer. When most kids spent their entire lives exploring and changing their career paths with the seasons, he had already begun the lifelong journey of a farmer. From riding in a tractor’s buddy seat to birthing cattle and lambs before the age of 10, he experienced life’s most dear and difficult lessons. Not every child born into a farm family wants to remain on the farm but it’s often a passion they, like my husband, choose to follow.
These farmers are important. They represent a traditional art and science that most people won’t ever have the privilege to truly understand. There’s something to be said for those that tend to the land in acres and not hours and those whose lives will forever serve the livestock that provides us so much.
Others find their way to farming because of family, significant others or because they have an interest in growing their own food. Many times, this process starts as a hobby farm dabbling in a little of everything - gardening, flowers, egg production, raising livestock, etc. This also leads the producer into realizing that there is a business opportunity in their backyard. I fall into this category. Even though my husband operates a large-scale crop farm and I’ve learned beside him, I became interested in what I could produce in our own few acres at home.
These farmers are important. Their desire to learn more about every aspect of farming (small or large scale) is contagious. They generate excitement and bring people onto their farms who may not have had another opportunity to learn about the lifestyle, they raise children around plants and animals and offer a personal experience to consumers. Hobby farms, business or not, give way to the freedom of farming and specializing in your needs.
Urban farming is growing in popularity as people recognize the need for fresh produce both for themselves and their community. ‘Support your local farmer’ has never been a more relevant saying - consumers enjoy supporting people they know. In Genesee County we are lucky to witness a thriving urban agriculture system. Open lots are being turned in to gardens, high tunnels are being constructed, educational organizations are forming, more people are becoming involved with local farmers’ markets and more people are connecting with their food.
These farmers are important. They create something rich and edible out of a landscape that wasn’t designed to grow. It takes creativity, patience and vision. They see the potential to meet essential needs in an unlikely space. Growing produce in urban areas also allows for educational opportunity and service. It does the soul good to get your hands dirty in the soil and see where your food comes from. Farms can not only teach children about the lifestyle but also inspire adults who have an interest in starting their own backyard gardens. The urban farm community has proven that you can do a lot of good in a little space.
However different these three farmer types may be, they are connected through the dedication to growing and caring for the living things that sustain us. We are all affected by the weather, the markets, the pain of failure and the joys of success. It takes every single one to meet the needs of this world, so keep forging a path, farmers. You will do one more thing that the world needs aside from growing things…you will give rise to the next generation of agricultural producers. Some of you may have your own and some will introduce someone to their life’s passion. Either way, the birth of a farmer is important.