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Who is a farmer?

Following on from my post “the truth about farming”, I wanted to discuss the meaning of the word farmer, because I few people in the comments thought that they weren’t farming. As you can see from my alias, I consider myself a farmer, and I consider anyone who is growing any food to also be a farmer, whether they live on 100s of acres or in an apartment.

eight acres: who is a farmer?

The word farmer can mean someone who profits from raising livestock and/or cultivating land, but it has a broader meaning, as someone who farms. And a farm can just mean a place where livestock are raised and/or land cultivated. That means that if you grow something to eat by cultivating land, even if its just a few pots of herbs, you are a farmer.

I don’t want to take anything away from farmers who do earn a living from their work, I think farmers are amazing, hard-working people, and we are all lucky that they want to dedicate their lives to feeding the rest of us! However, I think its also helpful to empower everyone to realise that they can be farmers too, even if its just in small way, we can all grow something to feed ourselves. Being a farmer will help you save money, be an interesting hobby, and help you prepare for a situation where the food distribution system fails.

Something else that find interesting is the different words used to describe small-farmers in different countries.  In the US, the term is "homesteader", which has a history in the Homestead Acts that allowed people to settle small areas of land for subsistence farming.  In the UK, the term "small holding" is used.  In New Zealand or Australia, its common to call small farms "hobby farms" or "lifestyle blocks", which I find a little demeaning.  I was wondering what the equivalent historical term was for Australia, and I realised it is "squatter".  The squatters were ex-convicts who gained rights to use crown land by being the first to occupy it, first illegitimately, and later it was a word for legal occupants.  The meaning has now changed slightly to mean all longterm owners of large rural properties, so it doesn't really apply to small farmers, and I don't think it would catch on anyway!  Unfortunately we don't really have our own suitable word, so I just call ourselves small farmers.

So are you with me, are you a farmer too?

Not sure where to start? Try my interview series with other bloggers about getting started with growing your own, with chickens and with homestead dairy.


  1. Yes we are with you Liz, initially for the food distribution concerns in the future, but now for the contentment and satisfaction it gives us. I am reading you with interest and thank you for your interest in sharing knowledge with us.

  2. Hi 'Farmer Liz', I love your definition of a farmer. And completely agree that I find the term 'hobby farm' or 'lifestyle block' here demeaning. So I generally go with 'small holder' (being Welsh)- as in UK a smallholding is larger than an allotment (which is generally used for vegetables and chickens) but smaller than a 'farm' (considered to be 50 acres and over).
    There is also a common acceptance that the keeping of livestock makes you a 'small holding'.

    In scotland there is another term a 'crofter', whihc I've always liked. But this is unique to highlands (I think) and is more of a community of crofters than an individual enterprise.

  3. I think you are right ...there are all kinds of farmers. From the people I have met , I have actually found 'hobby farmers' (yes wrong word-I do like 'crofter' ) are the people that infuse new ideas into farming...which then spread into bigger farming enterprises.

  4. I've been smirked at by old locals for calling myself a farmer, but I'm not going to stop. The context has changed, and a cool thing about the English language is that it adapts to suit. Once it my have been redundant to call all food producers farmers because people were generally involved in food production somehow. Now, when its is so common for people to be totally disconnected from their food, we need to be able to describe and encourage the new distinction where there was no need to before. Even if I don't ever profit from my farm, I'm growing a deeper understanding of what it takes to sustain life every day, that alone is something worth harvesting. :)

  5. I agree Liz. We only have 14 acres but I do call myself a farmer. We are farming the land, growing livestock and so therefore we are farmers, in my opionion.

  6. Yep, im a farmer. I keep livestock (worms) and profit from their worm tea and castings. I also cultivate veggies.

  7. Or the supposed difference between a gardener and a farmer: a gardener only goes out to the garden in good weather, a farmer goes about the farms business in every kind of weather. By that definition, I am a gardener ;-) Then there's 'farm' to describe intense animal-rearing … a 'worm farm' is a 'worm prison'; 'farm fresh eggs' from hens caged in unspeakable conditions. Flexible language, flexible meanings.

  8. Very interesting series of posts and comments.

    The definition of "farmer" is something I pondered for a long time in my early days of homestead blogging (most of which made it into my book as well). In the end, I saw farming as a career and homesteading as a way of life. Not that farming isn't a way of life(!), but since we make our monetary living away from home, I thought we should call ourselves homesteaders. Now, however, I'm starting to use the term "agrarian" more and more. It embodies a specific philosophy as well as a way of life. To me, anyway. :)

  9. I wanted to comment yesterday, but ran out of time. I saw today that Elaine had mentioned something I was considering myself - I see myself more as a gardener than a farmer. Although I often do trek into the garden in bad weather, if I need to check how the water is flowing or to rescue pot plants I've left out. I also like to observe storms to see where they're coming from and going to, and studying the wind direction so I know where the bad winds generally come from.

    I also thought I wouldn't want to relate to modern agriculture as it stands today. As a gardener I'm into building eco-systems, not tearing them down to produce monocultures. That's when I realised farming, food and gardening, is all very subjective to the person doing it. Not all farming is bad, like not all gardening is good. It all depends on what the individuals involved, understand about the bigger picture.

    Whether gardener or farmer, I think all monocultures are temporary systems designed to deplete themselves. As as gardener or farmer, its our responsibility to look beyond the next meal and start feeding the system that grows the food. It was a good discussion topic to raise, as it's about all our futures and how we can see ourselves contributing.

    Elaine's comment about worm prisons was interesting, but if you look at all the species on the planet, we're all "kept" by something. We could call a forest a prison too, because it has all the resources we like to use in it. Animals aren't really free to come and go in a forest, as they have to stay with their food supply and then deal with being eaten by something else, as nature likes to control its population too.

    We can only live by our food supply, be that farmer or gardener. Understanding where we fit (or want to fit) is how we contribute to a system far greater than us. I thank Liz for raising the question, where do we see ourselves in the bigger picture? Personally, I used think gardening meant plants, now I understand that plants mean support species and protection - because the elements do make for a harsh world, if not planted in the ideal position.

    Am I a farmer? Not in the traditional sense, but then I'm not a traditional gardener either. I think there is always room to learn different ways to live and I think that's where you were heading with this post (Liz) what are we doing individually to contribute to feeding the system? Do we feed the system of depletion through our consumption, or do feed we the system of abundance through our contribution?

    I'm still in the process of learning, as I attempt to let go of a lifetime of ignorant consumption.

  10. my friends refer to me as a farmer even tho we have only just under an acre, i like the term homesteader just as Leigh said Homesteading is a way of life, for us its about trying to look after ourselves, family, friends & neighbours, sharing your abundance & skills is what its all about. we dont have as much as some but a lot more than others. i think anyone who can produce food or anything else that your family may need can call themselves a farmer.

  11. Oh I like this. I've been feeling a bit down about not having a vege garden anymore. I feel like a landless farmer. But I still picked mint and silverbeet from my pots tonight, so I guess I still get to call myself a farmer. Yay! Feeling happier.

  12. What is the difference between a farmer and a rancher??


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