By Trudy Wischemann
Leave it to Dinuba farmer Paul Buxman to put his finger on a seemingly minor detail: Devin Nunes is not a farmer, though his official election documents represent him as such. Paul’s effort to get the word “farmer” removed from those documents has been defeated by a judge, but his point is worth pursuing.
What makes a person a farmer? Let me add an adjective here: a real farmer? Is it like being an alcoholic or an addict, where the definition depends entirely on the person’s recognition of the fact? In other words, you might look like an alcoholic or an addict to all of your friends and family, but if you don’t recognize that fact yourself, the definition is moot. Is being a farmer like that?
Since moving to the Central Valley, I’ve been astounded by how few Californians who work the soil call themselves “farmers.” The preferred term here is “grower.” The distinction seems to imply a different color collar. Farmers’ collars are blue; growers’ collars are more likely white, although I’ve known some growers who actually turned on their own water and sprayed their own weeds. I often thought a good definition of whether a person is a real farmer might be exactly those two activities. If somebody else runs your irrigation system and climbs up into the tractor seat, I don’t think you qualify for the blessed “f” word.
Paul wasn’t trying to make the fine distinction I’m trying to make here; he simply pointed out that Devin hasn’t made his income from farming for a very long time. I’m saying something different: I think you can make your living from farming and still not be a farmer. Do you run your farm from behind the windshield of your pickup, or do you actually climb down from the tractor to refill the tank on the spray rig? From the vantage point of the pickup, you might be informed enough about the farm’s operations to call yourself a grower, but unless you’re out there working in the fields and groves, taking in the knowledge direct experience teaches you, you’re disqualified from the farmer category. Plain and simple.
Lots of real farmers I know are missing parts of one or more fingers. A long time ago I thought I might make a photo exhibit of farmers’ and growers’ hands as a way of determining where the line falls between real farmers, who are necessarily operating farms in the smaller size category (say, something under 2,000 acres, depending on the crop?) and the big boys (say, 100,000 acres and up?) The size of operation is definitely part of this whole definition thing, in case that hasn’t occurred to you yet, dear reader. How much land you take up, trying to make a living.
Where’s the line between small-scale family farms and large, industrial operations? How many acres? People have been asking me that since I started raising the question. Now I tell them “I don’t know, but somewhere between two acres and 200,000 acres, there’s a line. And we can help decide that.”
Another way might be to ask a person whether they call themselves a farmer at any other time than during elections.
Trudy Wischemann is a rural advocate who writes. You can send her your farmer definitions c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247 or visit www.trudysnotesfromhome.blogspot.com and leave a comment there.
This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Foothills Sun-Gazette newspaper.