A Real Farmer


I found the following the definitions for “farmer” in various online dictionaries:

An owner or manager of a farm.

A person who cultivates land or crops or raises animals (as livestock or fish).

A person who farms; person who operates a farm or cultivates land.

An individual whose primary job function involves livestock and/or agriculture.

I’ve been slightly obsessed with the meaning of being a farmer since I started trying to become one. Most of the time, I don’t feel like a farmer at all. Most of the time, I feel like I’m 12, but that’s another subject. However, as each year passes in my attempt to grow into farmerhood, I feel more like one.

But what makes a person a farmer?

I live on a 100-acre farm. Living on a farm doesn’t make one a farmer, though. I know a lot of people with rural property who do nothing whatsoever to engage in farming. They’re property owners.

I used to file a Schedule F for farm taxes until my accountant determined that I should incorporate Chickens in the Road and file my taxes that way, with no Schedule F. I don’t make a lot of money directly from farming (livestock, crops, etc). In fact, I make very little that way, which makes it difficult to continue to propose to the IRS that I’m a farmer. On the other hand, I manage pasture and livestock, so according to a different arm of the U.S. government, the USDA, I’m a farmer and qualified for farm programs. The government can’t even make up its own mind, so obviously they can’t be in charge of deciding.

I do manage pasture and livestock–but I don’t make my living that way, at least not directly. That makes me sound like, if anything, a possibly stupid person since pasture and livestock are expensive hobbies if you’re not making any money from them. Does that make me a hobby farmer?

But I make my sole living from my farm–which mean it’s not a hobby. I just make my living from a farm in an unusual way. I make a living writing about and photographing my farm and my farm animals, among other associated activities. Whether it’s my website, my columns, books, or teaching, it’s all about the farm or farm-related (old-fashioned cooking and crafting, etc). I also do get out in the muck every day and I work on my farm. I don’t just have a cow for show, I milk my cow. And that is true for all of my animals, unless you count Jack and Poky. I haven’t figured out why they’re here yet, but I’m sure there’s a reason. (Wait, I remember, they’re cute.) I operate my farm for profit.

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 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 is you–not the government, not your neighbors, not the dictionary. A farmer is known by many things, but most of all by the dedication of their heart, the commitment to their pursuit despite all odds and all struggles.

Furthermore and in conclusion, I’m pretty sure a real farmer doesn’t even–

–think about it.



  1. wkf says:

    I think I am 12 too. :snoopy: Be all you can be!!!

  2. wildman says:

    FARMER — The only true expert in the world –a person outstanding in their field !!!!

  3. Pam full of joy says:

    I was hoping, as I was reading, that you’d come to the conclusion that you don’t need permission from anyone to call yourself a farmer. Oh, sure, there might be some technical pifflry for tax purposes which has nothing to do with your position as an actual farmer.

    So will you sign things “Suzanne McMinn, Author and Farmer” now?


  4. pollyjs says:

    @wkf LOL: “FARMER – a person out, standing in their field !!!!”

    power on, Suzanne! _____https://chickensintheroad.com/wp-includes/images/smilies/chicken.gif_____

  5. pollyjs says:

    well that witty chicken in the drawing didn’t work 😛

    _____ :chicken: ______

  6. pollyjs says:

    best i could do for a road 🙂

  7. brendaE says:

    Politicians call themselves leaders – yeah right – so be whatever you want to be and call yourself whatever you feel you are. I consider you a farmer and I think it’s way more important for people to see you for the wonderful person you are than to actually worry about a label. To me you are way more than a farmer, you are a teacher, a writer, a mother and apparently a friend to many. That’s a good thing.

  8. SarahGrace says:

    Definitely there are two camps! I am so glad that you don’t listen to the naysayers. I take encouragement from that. Does that mean I can freely call myself a farmer too? 😉

  9. SarahGrace says:

    Oh, BTW, Farmer Wayne calls you a farmer…..

  10. nursemary says:

    We settled on “hobby rancher” when we just couldn’t seem to qualify ourselves as farmers due to the “cultivating and growing” aspect of farming. We do grow a mean few rows of pasture grass over our septic tank leach lines though! Maybe we are farmers after all!

    Thanks for the laughs.


  11. ellen422 says:

    My father’s best friend grew up in privilege with real servants, an Ivy League education (where he dropped out) and etc. His love was a small farm. He and his wife who were perhaps the most influential people in my life outside my direct family, lived on a 180 acre farm in NE Pennsylvania. He worked at night as a night watchman at a Grants department store; she was a schoolteacher. In the summers they ran a sort of improvised camp for mentally challenged kids at their place, the kids staying in a wing of their dilapidated farmhouse. They ran sheep and had horses and donkeys (just because they loved donkeys) and had about ten dogs. Suzanne, you remind me of her quite a bit. I was lucky to spend two weeks a summer with them, treasuring each moment.

    I think farmers in the 20th and 21st centuries do many things in addition to ‘just’ raising crops and animals. I envy you your life – hard, difficult and joyous as it all is. Reading your blog is like glimpsing into a world I’m far removed from in the urban jungle…and miss a lot.

  12. Sue, a Florida Farm Girl says:

    “….letting other people’s opinions define your life is a slippery slope to hell.”

    Boy, did you speak the truth there!!! Something we all need to remember. I never doubted a minute that you’re a farmer. You’re also a writer. You’re a mom. You’re a daughter. You’re a friend. You’re a neighbor. Nobody is EVER just one thing in this life, or that’s been my humble experience. So don’t even think about it and just keep on keeping on!!!!!!

  13. MMHoney says:

    Dear Suzanne;
    I have you labeled as “a blessing.”

  14. Pete says:

    Being simple-minded, my definition of a farmer is: one who putzes around on a farm.

    A friend and I even called it “farming” when we would spend an afternoon digging around in my backyard in the big city! We both grew up around real farms, missed it, and simply needed to get our hands in the dirt from time to time. At least I HAD a back yard with some dirt in it – she lived in an apartment with a small square of dirt into which was planted a holly bush near her front door. So, the “farming” we did was mostly for our mental health!

  15. mds9 says:

    Well done.
    You’re a “Philosopher”.
    Great input from your extended family today.

  16. alexisls says:

    Damn straight! Btw, “letting other people’s opinions define your life is a slippery slope to hell” gets it just exactly right.

  17. twiggityNDgoats says:

    Great post! I have pondered this many a time. As a geologist with two advanced degrees I never really felt like an authority on geology. I never really felt like a farmer either even though I spent 5 hours a day or more tending goats and doing farm improvements. I am, however much more comfortable at being a goat farmer than I ever was as a doctor of geology. I decided that Ph.D. really does stand for Post hole Digger and that is just fine by me. You, my friend, are a real farmer and one that is likely to fare very well in this ever-changing world we find ourselves in.

  18. Joell says:

    I think some smart toymaker should come out with a FARMER SUZANNE doll for the girls, afterall they all sorts of farmer “Bob” or “Bill” etc. dolls and toys–it’s about time, teach young girls about farming.

  19. Country Blossom says:

    Jack and Poky have a very important job. They are supposed to help deter coyotes and feral dogs from harming livestock. We keep a donkey around to prevent coyotes from attacking foals out of our rescued mares. He only works every few years but the peace of mind is amazing.

  20. yvonnem says:

    You are SUZANNE…an awesome writer, mother and business woman…AND FARMER! You know what needs done around your place, and see that it is done to your satisfaction. I am so happy that you found this place, to live, love and cherish for the rest of you life! :heart:

  21. bonita says:

    The ghost in the machine gobbled up my original comment to this post. So, I’ll try it again: This is a great insight into the common theme of “you are what you do.” Problem is that an any two instants in time, a person such as yourself may be doing something uniquely different to his or her previous activities. That is, you are a moving target, growing at every opportunity. All in all, this post sounds like the underpinnings of a memoir. {?}

  22. whaledancer says:

    I would probably call you a homesteader, but if you prefer “farmer,” I’d say go for it. I think you should get yourself business cards that say:

    Suzanne McMinn

    Sassafras Farm (phone, etc.)

    That way, if you start to wonder whether you’re a real farmer, you can just look at your business cards and know you must be.

  23. Stick Horse Cowgirls says:

    I think the word “farmer” is quite fitting for you! I absolutely LOVE this photo! Hope it will be offered as a print–I can just see it in my study!

  24. holstein woman says:

    I’ve been relearning to be a farmer for 6 years and I’m almost 63 years old. I need to learn all I can because if something happend to my DH I have to do my job and his—which I may say Suzanne—that is exactly what you are doing without the help of man! Queen farmer!

  25. WvSky says:

    Lets see…. sort of farmer and internet story teller. Maybe you’re a “Virtual Farmer”? 😉

  26. CarrieJ says:

    You’re a farmer. A super strong, woman farmer. A very rare breed. Oh, BTW my husband just finished Mammy Jane. Then I pointed him to your blog post. He was mad as hell at me! I ruined it for him :). It was still an awesome story even with the “liberties” taken. Made me want to go all “Little House on the Prairie”.

  27. Larry Eiss says:

    I am not a real farmer, but I grew up around farms, I worked on farms, my father had farmed a lot before I was born, several of our extended family members were farmers. Consequently, I am a farmer–if you don’t think so, just ask my friends from Manhattan.

    So, from one farmer to another; Suszanne, never doubt it. You are a farmer!

  28. Rainn says:

    I really love the photo with this post too!!!! See you in a week farmer Suzanne!!Rain 🙂

  29. LK says:

    What you do is called “diversification” Suzanne. Many farmers who have lived and worked on farms for many generations now have found that they need to diversify. You are just diversifying first…”beefing up” your farm, so to speak before taking generations to figure out that it can work hand in hand.

    I believe a farmer is not only one who raises livestock and/or grains, but one who truly has a passion for those things and puts everything they have into it to make sure all is well.

    My husband has never owned a farm, but lives, eats and breathes farming. We use only 5 acres at this point (we actually own less…our neighbor has been very gracious) and have had all kinds of animals (bison included!). We are raising our own animals for food and dairy, but are just missing out on the grain end of things (and all of the diversifying-type things that we would love to do if only we had more land). I consider my husband a true farmer at heart. He has wanted to farm ever since he was tiny wee. He IS a farmer. He attends the farm trade shows, goes to the farm auctions when he can, knows his equipment, has worked for years for farmers in all capacities, knows the markets, etc., etc.,…yes, that is a farmer to me. The govt. run by city folk cannot define a true farmer, because they have no idea what a farmer is.

    We are raising little farmers now too. They all know their farm equipment (event he girls do), do farm chores every day, and love the fullness of country life. A tractor or combine going past is a highlight. Combining for hours on end is to die for. We don’t see them ever settling for life in the city or even a small town.

    It is like being a mother. You are not JUST a mother, are you? You have so many other labels tied to every other thing you might do that makes you that unique mother. Just like a farmer. You are a farmer.

    No matter what the label, you need to decide for yourself what you are. I see so much passion in what you do, I don’t know why you would call yourself anything other than a farmer. You are just progressive thinking, that is all.

  30. Cassie says:

    I always tell people about Chickens in the Road. “There’s a lady who is a farmer and an author and she has this website…”

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