I work full-time on my farm, but even full-time isn't required to be a farmer. My great-uncle Carl operated a farm and he worked in the gas/oil fields for years. It's not uncommon or new for farmers to have other jobs. Even farmers who don't have other full-time jobs may take part-time or at least occasional jobs, often hiring out to work at other farms.
There tends to be two camps when it comes to how people react to newcomers on the rural scene. There are those who look upon us with suspicion and nothing we will ever do will make them see us as their equals, and there are those who are eager to help, guide, and teach from their long-held skills. They are the ones who see that we are part of the next generation of farmers to pass on skills they value. I think of these farmers as rock stars. They know everything I want to know, and a lot of things I'll never know. But whether other farmers treat me like a fellow farmer or treat me like a pariah, that doesn't truly settle anything either since letting other people's opinions define your life is a slippery slope to hell.
Sometimes I have to wonder why I spend so much time pondering whether or not I deserve to be a farmer. If you take a job as an insurance salesman, they start calling you an insurance salesman right away. Same thing if you take a job as a teacher, a mechanic or a professional football player. If you operate a farm for profit, doesn't that automatically make you a farmer?
In today's world of shrinking independent farms and skyrocketing technology, the simplicity of the farm life can seem almost magical to many of us, lending a reverential air to farmers as if they are part of some poetic legend. Perhaps that makes it even more difficult to call yourself a farmer. Almost as if you're trying to call yourself Cinderella. Might as well claim to live in a castle while you're at it!
And yet there actually are real princesses in the world today, and sometimes they live in real castles. There are also real farms and real farmers. You don't have to marry a prince or be born to a queen to become one, either.
And so after my exhaustive nearly five-year search for the meaning of becoming a real farmer, I'm pretty sure the only person who can decide whether or not you are a farmer is you - not the government, not your neighbors, not the dictionary.
And more, I'm pretty sure a real farmer doesn't even think about it.
Finally! I know what to do!
Writer Suzanne McMinn lives in Roane County, where she writes every day in her blog, Chickens in the Road, at www.chickensintheroad.com.