Naming is a powerful thing. I’m an English prof, so I pay a lot of attention to language and semantics, for better and for worse. As this year’s gone by, and as I’ve found myself struggling with an internal compulsion that seemed to be driving me to farm, I have continued to ask myself what this word means.
I wrote in my last post that it has become clear to me that I don’t want to garden, or to “yarden”, or to homestead. I want to farm. But I also know that I am the last person on earth who should be driving tractors, getting up before dawn to tend to herds of livestock, and all the other stereotypical images that usually come up when urbanites think of farmers.
Farming, in this era of social movements, anxiety about food security, and rapid innovation, is actually a rather contentious word. It’s an identity (farmer), a job, a career, a calling. We use the same word to describe a thousand acres of Round-up Ready canola or a hellish hog production facility as we do a small, family-run operation that sells in the local market square. To distinguish between all these vastly different types of farming, we add adjectives: conventional, industrial, small, organic, permaculture, market, family, corporate, industrial-organic, hobby, etc.
So what, despite all their differences, makes all of these farms?
There are many folks more experienced than me coming up with answers to these questions, but after lots of reflection this year, this is what I’ve come up with: farming–in my definition–means that a crop is developed to sell.
Here are some of the other distinctions that I’ve come up with; let me know what you think.
Gardening: growing for pleasure, ornamental and food
Yardening: Rob at OneStraw defines his terms…
Victory Gardening: growing a substantial amount of one’s own produce
Homesteading (Urban or otherwise): producing as many of the products (beyond just produce, and potentially beyond just food) consumed by the residents as possible.
Hobby Farming: small-scale farming in terms of the diversity of the activities performed: livestock, produce, etc, but the production is intended for fun, interest, passion, and/or sustenance. Some income may be produced, but is not the goal. In these parts, hobby farmers usually have 2 full-time professional incomes, and the farm produces enough money to potentially gain “farm status” (which means a large reduction in property taxes), to maintain the agricultural status of the property (BC has Agricultural Land Reserve zoning that can make this important), and/or to break even with the costs of the farm (feed, etc).
Market Gardening: small-scale commercial production of produce for market
And, finally, what farming means in my world, and to me as I intend to approach it, means that I will have an integrated system of livestock, plant, and other food production designed to meet our own needs, but also designed as a income-producing venture. In other words, I don’t want to hobby farm not because of size or scale, but because I want to eventually make a living from farming as a commercial enterprise.
Now, I don’t expect to be able to make a living for some years yet, and perhaps we’ll farm on such a small-scale that we will never be able to replace one full-time income. But that’s the long-term goal. I’ve realized that my compulsion is not just to grow to sustain my family, but to contribute food to the community.
This is a big leap, obviously, and there are a million details to work out. And I will post another day about the actual vision that I’m working on. But taking on the word farming to describe my vision, for me, brings a responsibility to my shoulders. A responsibility to take my labour and costs seriously and to think about what sustainability in agriculture really means–and not just in my own backyard.