Everyone has a different definition of what a farmer is. The worst I found came from dictionary.com, and it was, “an unsophisticated person from a rural area.” I’ll give you a second to finish rolling your eyes. Some consumers call anyone in boots and overalls a farmer, but I think the worst definition of what a farmer is comes from us.
Farming is hard. A full-time farmer is spending more hours working in a day than most people spend being awake. There’s a constant to-do list that never gets shorter because half of the day is spent simply doing the daily things needed to keep your animals alive. It’s not just the work of physically doing it, it’s the mental stress of wondering if you made the right decisions during planting to have enough feed for your animals for the next 12 months.
It’s the financial burden that never goes away. The stress is real. Being a full-time farmer is harder than ever before. So, when your significant other who works off the farm or one of your employees calls themselves a farmer, the first thought that pops into your mind is “but you’re not a real farmer, are you?” I’ll be the first to raise my hand, I’ve thought it. But why aren’t they?
Do they do any physical work on the farm? Is what they do on the farm helpful to the bottom line, even if it’s just taking a little work away from you? Do they help with the farm’s paperwork? Are they involved in the finances? Do they provide some kind of service that keeps the people who do the physical work going? Do they ever seem mentally or emotionally frustrated when things aren’t going right?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, that person is a farmer. My mom used to do it all. Drive equipment, milk cows, feed calves, and the woman was a force to be reckoned with on a skid loader. After some major health issues, things have changed.
She keeps track of the finances, runs for parts, transfers us between fields, and keeps us fed. This farm couldn’t run without her and that makes her every bit a farmer. During particularly stressful periods, she may not know exactly why we’re all freaking out, but she feels every bit of that stress.
I’m tired of seeing people calling themselves the “farm wife” or “farm kid” or “just the farm worker.” Why do we let this be okay? My new definition of a farmer is pretty simple. If the farm can’t run without you, you’re a farmer. End of story.
The author dairies in partnership with her parents and brother at Spruce Row Farm in Pennsylvania. Jessica is a graduate of Pennsylvania State University, and since 2015, she has been active in promoting dairy in her local community. You can find her and her 250 Jersey cows on Facebook at Spruce Row Dairy or on Instagram at @seejessfarm.