What do you grow on your farm?

The two questions I’m asked most frequently by folks when they learn we’re farmers are “how big is your farm” and “what do you grow on your farm.”

The questions betray what our society has come to understand about agriculture and farm life.

These days most people believe that a farm grows one thing. So there are corn farmers, cattle farmers, cotton farmers, tomato farmers, etc.  I usually respond to that question by saying we have a diversified farm.  Sometimes I answer by saying we grow food.

Our farm is an ecosystem.  It is part of a larger ecosystem of course, but we try to think of it as a unique organism as well.  Natural ecosystems are diverse.  Nature does not like monocultures. By raising lots of different things we not only better mimic nature, we also help assure that even if we have a crop failure or two, we still raise plenty of food.

People also tend to assume that the size of a farm and the amount used to grow food are the same. So when they ask “how big is your farm?” they mean “how big is the area you use to produce food?”  Our farm is 183 acres, but only about 5 acres of that is in veggies, maybe less, and that includes fields that are idle as part of our rotation plan.  Most of our farm is in pastures, woods and uncultivated fields.  We try to tend to it all, but often that requires minimal intervention from us. We aren’t trying to squeeze “production” out of every inch of it.  We’re happy to leave as much as we can for wildlife habitat, slow growth crops (like trees) and wild edibles (like blackberries–which we share with the wildlife). We produce a lot of food on the little bit of the farm that we tend intensively, and we could produce much more if we tended it even more intensively. But in the minds of many people these days, to be a farmer means to raise one or two thing on a very large scale.

That needs to change.  And I believe it will.