Thursday, April 24, 2008

Who Is A Farmer?
Gristmill has a great piece on farming. It was written by Sharon Astyk and should be read in its entirety. I believe small scale farming is going to be necessary in the near future. Here are a few graphs I liked.
I have a strong opinion on this subject (gee, could you have guessed?). I think -- and yes, all the real farmers yell at me, and I don't entirely blame them -- that "farmer" should be the umbrella term for remunerative food production. That is, I think you are a farmer if you grow food for sale, for barter, or as a large portion of your own personal economy -- that is, I think we call them "subsistence farmers" for a reason. If farming either provides a significant part of your income or your diet, I think we should use the words "farm" and "farmer."[...]

Ninety-five percent of all farms in many parts of the former Soviet Union are under 1 hectare, and they provide the majority of all agricultural production, a total of 52 percent of all food eaten in the region. The U.S., as of the last ag census, contained over 66,000 small farms under 2 hectares. Which just goes to support Kiashu's well-taken point here that about half of the world's food already comes from small farms. Add to that Helena Norberg-Hodge's observation that 2 billion people live almost entirely on subsistence agriculture that is low-input and largely organic (because they can't afford the alternative), and we can see that agricultural norms are simply different than what we North Americans think of.[...]

Interestingly, it seems that in both South Asia and the former Soviet Union, the trend that economic development generally creates toward larger farms does not seem to be the case -- that is, the Handbook of Agricultural Economics cited above notes that as of 2004, neither Russia nor South Asia seems to be following the pattern of getting bigger as they get richer.

In Russia, the authors speculate, it may be because of the powerful impact of the 1990 collapse of the Soviet Union, where consumers now associate small farms with food security.[...]

First, that small farms are normal, and that the majority of the world's farmers are small farmers of less than 5 acres. That is, it is hard to claim that someone farming a comparatively small piece of land is not a farmer if they constitute a majority -- in fact, perhaps it would be more accurate to call many large scale farmers (as some prefer) agribusinessmen and -women, and leave the term farmer to the majority.[...]

A farmer is not someone who never does any work off the farm, then. She is not someone who owns a lot of land, or necessarily sells much or any food in the market place. (And by the way, it is a "she" -- the majority of the world's farmers are women, and many poor nations have long traditions of agriculture and land ownership in women's hands.) So what distinguishes farmers from gardeners? Not much.

I really enjoyed the article. I hope you do to.

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