Words are powerful.
Categorizing people has major impacts.
Exploring our identities takes time.
What we call ourselves versus what society calls us is meaningful.
what is the difference between A
A farm worker/farm hand ?
Do you call yourself a farmer?
They are all terms that have been created by capitalism and ownership and privatization of business and land. I consider myself a farmer but I think that is more so as a philosophy or a way.
I don’t like the term farm worker. It makes me feel a little like “the help.”
I’ll be there to be the help, but I have a greater investment in learning and understanding.
I think if I tell people I’m a farmer, they assume I have my own farm. So I think I’m more like a farm hand because I don’t have my own farm. I just work at farms that are owned by other people. I’m really farming someone else’s vegetables. I’m one of the farmer’s farmhands.
Farming is the labor that I do so I do engage in that title despite not being a property owner. There is a dichotomy and I’m not really interested in that. I’m pivotal in the success of the farm even if I don’t have ownership. That doesn’t make me or anybody else less than.
For me I feel a strong draw to identifying myself as a farm worker. And I think that a part of that comes from my interest and reality in being someone who does the work, who has my hands in the dirt, who is growing the food. I think that in this world it is often workers who are the ones who are creating what we consume. There is kind of a feeling of solidarity with other folks who don’t get the community recognition or the end of year tax break, the interview on podcasts or newspaper articles, but are the ones who day after day show up to weed the fields and put the plants in the ground.
I tend to call anyone who is farming a farmer.
If I was talking to someone outside the farm community describing my work – I’m a farmer. If I were talking to another person who worked on a farm or owned a farm, I’d call myself a farm worker. I think it feels presumptuous to call myself a farmer when I’m around people who have been farming longer than I have or have their own farm. I want to make a distinction that that’s not exactly where I am and also to be kind of like naming my place within the actual food system of DC/Maryland area.
I think the fetishization of land ownership in America is deeply twisted and the fact that a farmer is determined by a piece of paper that has their name on the deed of some plot of land doesn’t make any sense to me. It devalues the hands that actually feed the community, and also makes this weird idea that farm workers are somehow less knowledgeable than a farm owner, which anyone who has experience on farms knows that is just not true, sometimes the exact opposite is true.
Being able to be written down and seen on paper as a farmer is very determined by land ownership, and being seen on those pieces of paper is how policy is made. If you’re not engaging with the people who are working the land and the people who know what is going on on the farm… we see over and over again how American farm policy is not actually supporting small farms. My partner who has been farming for a decade has never been interviewed or surveyed as a farmer, yet you hear this statistic, the average farmer in America is 60 – where are you getting that number? Everyone I know who is 25 and actually farming has never been asked if they’re a farmer.
The difference is maybe people think farmers are older, white men, driving a tractor. I don’t see a difference in those terms personally. When people ask me what I do, I usually say that I’m a farmer. I’ve worked to that place that I can say that I’m a farmer.
They are both intertwined. I think a lot of us can see a farmer as someone who sits back, does the planning and has a bunch of laborers do the work for them. That’s a misconstrued perception of who a farmer is. I feel like a farmer and farm worker are one in the same. If you are working with the land, tending the land, then you are doing both the work of the farmer and farm worker – planning and working with the land. I don’t really see a difference.
I do consider myself a farmer even though there is still a lot to learn. Farmers are constantly learning. And I take pride in that too, just because my family had been farmers for generations. That’s just something that we know to do either intuitively or through passing on traditions.
I think that in many ways they are divisive terms, in many ways they perpetuate a certain narrative of who deserves and is eligible to occupy a certain cohort. They are racially and socioeconomically rooted definitions and I think that they are not particularly helpful terms.
It started with folks who were very elite wanting to divide working class and poor folks. There is a lot of infighting between of farmers and farm workers: denial of basic rights to farm workers, overtime pay, right to collective bargaining. It’s rooted in racism and white supremacy. What I see is an othering, infighting created by power in our society. Folks quarrel with each other rather than band together to make structural change.
I understand and empathize both with farmers and farm workers. While I don’t agree with denying farm workers basic rights and protections, I don’t necessarily blame it on farmers, but I see farmers as perpetuating it. The tide has to rise to uplift farmers and farm workers alongside each other.
I respect both of them. If someone called me either, I would have pride.
Because of the media, there is a hierarchy, so there is a difference. Farm workers are associated in contemporary U.S. media as migrant farm workers, possibly someone who might be making barely enough money to survive.
I feel like the farm workers are the real farmers. When I talk about myself I think of myself as a farmer, but if someone was making a distinction between farmer and farm worker, one designates ownership and the other doesn’t. It doesn’t have to mean formal ownership, it could mean agency as part of a collective. Farm workers don’t have agency. You see that certainly on the big farms in the central valley in California, and also on small farms, too, where people don’t have agency. They’re seen as expendable cogs in machines…there’s always more farm labor and always more young people.
I carry a self consciousness with identifying myself by that term (farmworker). I’m keenly self conscious because of the term farm worker and how culturally pervasive that term is to refer to migrant labor and disenfranchised, not legally protected workers in the US. It’s a huge sector of our agricultural work force that to so many people, I think specifically people who don’t work on farms, is part of their vocabulary. We have advocacy groups for farm workers. It’s important to be specific. These are people who have been literally forced to migrate to this country and forced to work in farms with no rights who produce food for us.
It’s important to be specific. Otherwise to obliterate that term farm worker, it’s the same as saying all lives matter.
I consider myself a farmer, not a farm worker, but technically that is all I am right now. I don’t own property of any sort. I don’t have any agricultural being. I think more farm workers should be considered farmers. I don’t even know for myself what the difference technically is.
A farmer is anyone who works on a farm or produces any sort of food. I wouldn’t link it to someone who owns a farm. I don’t think in practice it has anything to do with ownership. I think it’s kind of what you do.
I would say a farm worker is somebody who is an imported worker – usually paid by the number of things they harvest or work on and usually they are there for a really short time at the end of the season or peak of harvest. They don’t have the same kind of protection that an employee would have….they are nationally exempt from a lot of different labor standards. They don’t get minimum wage, don’t get mandatory rest breaks. They are invisible, which is really sad to me. They are the ones who are feeding us. 60% of them are food insecure, which is staggering. That is how we/I see farm workers.
Farmers and farm owners are definitely not getting paid a living wage either, but they have more say in how they are treated, there are higher standards.
I call myself a farmer because I am a labourer first and always. It is what I have to give and it is my greatest strength but also what can be most exploited. I call myself a farmer because I have a relationship with the food from the time they are seeds until they are eaten. If you just want to be a part of the showy part of farming then you aren’t a farmer.
My family looks at me with a little bit of envy and a little bit of “you’ll get over this” sort of thing. I remember being in my 20s and thinking that I’m going to live a certain way. I’m constantly justifying myself to other people and to myself that it is a legitimate job and you don’t have to own your own farm to be considered a farmer.
It’s kind of like queen bee versus worker bee.
I always just call myself a farm worker. I’ve caught myself at farmers’ markets – people asking if I’m an owner… I respond ‘I’m just an employee – I’ll ask my boss’. Why do I even say that? My bosses haven’t put that on me. I should just own the moment – this is what I think. It’s not because of anything that my employers have said to make me feel like I’m just a worker or employee. I kind of have seen myself that way. maybe it’s my working class background – I don’t know.
There is a capitalist notion tied to the language of farmer that does very much associate with land ownership. People don’t feel like they are farmers if they don’t own land. Tons of food production in NYC is mostly done by community gardens. There is a lot of land based trauma and some don’t identify for that reason alone. I’ve been in urban farming for the last 5 years, and people don’t identify with being a farmer because they don’t see farmers or farmland unless they visit their grandma. In the south people try to reject the term because of the negative aspect – it’s associated with being poor. A lot of the identity is regional. We have really dissociated people from food production and food systems – most people don’t see food production. Being a farmer is a vague and romantic idea. That is why these words are conflicted – we don’t see the truth in how our food is produced.
Sarah Ann Horton
I feel like I don’t have the right to call myself a farmer. A lot of the time I say I’m a farm hand. Farm hand has a lower stature sounding to it. A farmer has this idea of – you’re a full time farmer, you have your own farm. I think that is also maybe my own ego not feeling worthy of certain titles, but that is also something to be said.
From my experience farm owners don’t do work – they take a picture on a tractor, but don’t do the day to day work. There should be less difference in those words.
I also think there are racial connotations:
farm worker = day laborer in California
farmer = old white man on a tractor
Based on my experience, the role of the farm hand or farm worker is hidden. As with all farm workers of the world, conventional, organic, small scale, larger scale. It creates a power dynamic with the farm manager. It feels special to be a farm hand who is recognized in some fashion by the farm manager – in an online intro, to be allowed to work markets, introduced to the customer, or given a task that requires your insight or problem solving. There is a powerlessness that comes with being referred to as a farm worker or farm hand.
I personally don’t believe there is a difference besides what we have constructed or that narrative.
I tend to think of farmer as someone who works on their own land with the help of their family. Farmworkers work for a much bigger farm that may or may not be owned by an actual farmer or corporation. Farm workers to me aren’t any less knowledgeable or caring or concerned or integrated, but the power structure is there. People tend to think of farm workers as people who couldn’t get a job doing something else.
The term farmer should be reserved for farm workers.
There are plenty of people who are called farmers who could more accurately be called farm managers or crew managers. It’s like “planter” for plantation managers, they didn’t do any planting.
There is this whole culture of American farmers growing corn and soy, sitting in an enclosed tractor the whole time.
I think at this point in my life, there isn’t really a difference. I have seen how the farm employees are the ones running the farm and keeping it moving.
In the past, there definitely was a distinguishing thing – especially when I was a jaded young farm kid – I’d be working on the farm and doing the farm chores and I would feel like the hardworking person, and I would look at the farm employees who are young and new and slowing down the operation.
I used to think you had to put in your time to be considered a farmer. Anyone who wants to farm or be a farmer or wants to participate should.
A beginning farmer with new farm experience is just as valuable as someone who has been farming for 20 years.
Olivia Baxter – St.Pierre
People have called me a farmer so many more times than I’ve sort of felt like I identified that way. I identified more as a site manager or crew member, and it always felt like the farmer was the person the farm belonged to.
Personally I’m good with both farmer and farm worker, all are words that I would probably use to describe myself or respond to if people called me that.
It’s a little bit of a personal identity thing for folks who call themselves farmers – even in myself. I think for the first couple seasons that I farmed, I’d say that I worked on farms, but wouldn’t say that I was a farmer. That doesn’t mean that after your first season of farming you shouldn’t call yourself a farmer…because you are. It’s a personal mindset. I’ve taken on this work that I’m doing as a part of my identity. That is different for everyone. Using the word farmer means you’ve internalized the words as your identity and as part of who you are.
I call myself a farmer. That was the most uncomfortable thing – in my second year. I still felt so new to it, and I was at the time. I was in an apprenticeship program and my mentor told me that I was a farmer. I didn’t feel like I knew what I was doing, I felt unsure, uncomfortable, not confident. Now I do the same thing to my interns and crew! I send out newsletters to CSA members and introduce them as farmers, they probably feel silly about it. We put in the hard labor, hands in the earth doing the work. Recognizing that helps us also recognize that there aren’t just field workers out there. All the people out in the fields are farmers, they are farming, they know the plants, the produce, recognize pests and disease, when to harvest, it’s as intimate as you can get. They deserve that title of respect, if you would. I’m sure it’s different in different cultures, but in our society, there is a level of respect and recognition of the skillset.
I try to use it more now.
There is more of a difference between a farm owner and farmer because I can own a farm and not do the actual farming. Just because I own a farm doesn’t mean I’m a farmer versus the guy who is at the farm putting stuff to seed, taking care of it and harvesting and running the farm – that’s a farmer.
Alfonso “Fonz” Palacios
I do call myself a farmer and I feel like it’s become a very central part of my identity. Honestly it made me feel so good when I got to fill out my first government form and list farmer as my occupation. It’s what I’m proud of doing, what my passion is, what grounds and fuels me. Sometimes, in the winter months if I’m not farming, there’s almost a feeling of loss of identity.
I definitely feel a big difference. I still don’t really call myself a farmer. I say I work on a farm because I feel like a fraud if I call myself a farmer even though that is how I spend my year. I think the idea of land ownership is so tied into farming – that burden that you have taken on – all the shit that can happen that is out of control. I don’t have to deal with that. I don’t have to live with that fear and intensity. So I guess that I want to respect that distinction – what kind of responsibility that I have.
At the same time I don’t love that the feeling exists. And there are so many people I know who work on farms – it is their whole life and they put their whole soul and heart into a farm, so of course they are a farmer. I don’t like that it fully feels like it’s ingrained in me. to think that way.
It’s a hard thing to decide when to call yourself a farmer. The first time I ever even thought about it, I was at a conference with my boss. The person facilitating asked all the farmers in the room to raise our hands and I didn’t raise my hand. My boss looked at me like I was out of this world. She said, ‘You’re absolutely a farmer, raise your hand!’ Since then I’ve always sort of questioned that definition – when is the time that you are a farmer.
The farmer is making all of the decisions on what to plant, when to plant, what to harvest, what to weed, they are making all those calls.
I called myself a farmer on that first farm because I was the farm apprentice, but I also use words in ways that are a little more creative and maybe shouldn’t be used. I give myself grander titles sometimes just to entertain myself – maybe that’s why I’ve said I’m a farmer before.
I think the words are so dependent on what type of operation you are running. I remember once when I was farming in upstate New York, I applied for this job. I assumed it was an apprenticeship by the whole way it was described – it sounded very much this is an apprenticeship. I got the job and moved there, and a month in the farm manager was saying something to all of us and was like “This isn’t an apprenticeship – this is a position of a farm worker”, which meant that I was just there for them to yell at and push around to have things done.
I don’t think there should be so many different terms because that creates hierarchy. A lot of why I’ve had a lot of self doubt in my skills and experience is because I was labeled a farm worker or farm hand or seasonal employee. You’re at the bottom, you just do the grunt work. You’re not a farmer, you don’t have the inside scoop, you don’t know the crop plan, you’re left out.
Those terms aren’t inherent to what it needs to be. If you are doing farm work, you are a farmer. If you want to identify as not a farmer and as a gardener, then sure, however much you want to buy into the ag title. The title differences are just ways to promote hierarchy and access to skill, knowledge, power, money- it’s not inherent to what a farm needs to run. I don’t use those words with my crew; even if you’re new or an apprentice, we are all doing the work together. We are all farmers.
A big thing for me is recognition. For example, my friend worked at a small scale flower farm. The actual farmer (owner) didn’t do any of the work, but she took credit for all the work and never recognized the existence of any of her crew. There is also lots of emotional labor that you sometimes have to perform that often goes unrecognized/unvalued.
On my ideal farm, the farmer and the farmworker would be the same thing.
Everyone’s contribution would be part of the leadership. Leadership exists, but the head doesn’t move without the rest of the body. Leadership on farms should come from everyone.
I call myself a farmer’s apprentice – with all the pride in the world. I feel like my work is a contribution. I can be considered a farmer and a farmer’s apprentice at the same time.
I consider myself farmer. I think farm worker would imply less decision making and overall maybe less the full picture of the farm and its operations. I think farm workers can be incredibly knowledgeable, but when i think about the difference between me and a farm worker/new person, it’s that I would make decisions and explain things, and they would be following directions. There is no reason why a farm worker wouldn’t become a farmer – it’s about knowledge, not about ownership at all.
I will always call myself a farmer. I call my coworkers farmers and if I need to explain it to someone who thinks I own a farm, I’ll do that, but I won’t undervalue my skills and experience. I think there should be a shift in how we talk about people who work on farms. When I worked on a farm in Alabama that had H2A workers, a lot of those guys had been farming for at least 15 years and had way more knowledge than the white farm owners who they were working for, but they didn’t have money or family land.
It’s so complicated and there is so much privilege in being able to be recognized as a farmer. I think there is a lot of power in claiming that identity for myself.
I use both and all – farmer, farm worker, land worker.
I don’t say the word cook or chef or farmer or use those words lightly. If you are a chef, you can run a kitchen. If you are a farmer, you can run a farm. I always call myself a farm hand because I can’t run a farm right now, but I’m working hard toward that capability whether that is my end goal or not.
When I was a farm manager, I was the closest I’ve ever felt to identifying as a farmer. Ultimately in that position, I felt like I was still as important in that operation as every seed that went into the ground, as every tool that operated on that farm.
I can tell people that I farm, and I hear my friends who farm – a lot of them say the same thing – the verb is easier to say than the noun. It kind of escapes having to talk about the ownership.
People always talk about how many seasons they have under their belt. With my two seasons, I don’t know…am I considered a farmer? I mean, I am, but I have so much to learn. I’m doing the work of what all the other farmers are doing, but in the bigger picture I don’t know if I have the experience to justify calling myself a farmer.
I do call myself a farmer, but I feel like I’m in a place where I’m constantly learning things. One thing I like about being a farmer is that it’s not a job that you fully perfect. You can always have a bad growing year no matter how much experience you have.
I think I probably started calling myself a farmer in my 4th year when I started stepping up my role. I often still get an imposter feeling and I don’t know if it’s because I’m not a farm owner or not from a farming background or what it’s about. Am I a farmer? I don’t know. I feel the most weird about it when I’m talking to people outside the farming world. There’s this idea around farming, especially flower farming, where most people have an idealistic vision of it. They think I’m outside all day doing whatever and it’s so nice. Like… “if only I could leave my office job and do something like that.” As if it is a choice they couldn’t make themselves. I still get a little bit of it from my family where it’s like, ‘is this really what you’re going to do the rest of your life’ kind of thing. It’s a little bit of shame around saying it outside the realm of who understands what it means.
There are stereotypes – ingrained stereotypes based on those titles. You think of ‘farmer’ and it’s this old white guy, and you think of ‘farm worker’ and you think of an immigrant. It’s not right. They are interchangeable terms. Farm owners should be participating in the labor and farm workers should be participating in management.
Over time I have become more accustomed to the title of ‘farmer’. I think when I was more a fledgling, I was more uncomfortable owning that term. I feel a little more comfortable owning it, but I still sort of don’t. Even though I’ve dedicated a lot of my life to this pursuit, I don’t feel like I have a complete grasp of what it takes for instance to manage a market garden or raise animals so in that way I feel disconnected from the term ‘farmer’.
A hard part about that is that it hasn’t been my choice. If I had the opportunity to own that term, maybe I would.
I don’t call myself a farmer. I say I work on a farm.
Now that I’m farming pretty much microgreens, I feel like I’m cheating a little bit because it’s easier and I’m not all day under the sun and it’s not as hard as a vegetable farmer, but I still call myself a vegetable farmer.
People need to stop gate keeping, as in believing because you have more experience or are more seasoned in the occupation that you’re allowed to make judgement calls on who is allowed to participate in it or be called a farmer.
I don’t know how I feel about all those words because when we were hiring employees, we called them farm workers or farm employees. That was the job description that we put out. Part of me feels like for your first year on a farm, you’re not a farmer yet, but you are farming. I feel like someone is not a farmer until they are making a bunch of the decisions and really responsible for the final product coming to fruition and thinking about every step involved. If you worked in a restaurant in the kitchen, would you call yourself the chef? I think you have to grasp a lot of the bigger picture to be a farmer.
I’m a farmer and I manage a farm. To me, the difference between the farmer and the farmer manager is soil. The farmer builds the farm’s foundation with healthy soil and I come in to tidy it up and make it operate smoothly.
I think people wear the term ‘farmer’ as this badge of honor and this pride that you know how to farm, and you’re really one of the farmers. Of course when I started managing a farm as a 23 year old woman, I definitely struggled with imposter syndrome. It was a point of pride to say I was a farmer, but then also realizing some of the broader socioeconomic and racial contexts to farmer and farm worker distinctions.
I sometimes call myself a farmer because I think if the activity that you’re doing is farming then you’re a farmer. These days I also call myself a farm worker because it invokes a collective fellowship with the people who are making money for someone else. The term “farm worker” implies a specific set of experiences with power and hierarchy and capital. Farm workers occupy this really disempowered position, we are exploited for our labor, and sometimes applauded as heroes, but at the end of the day we are treated as expendable. When I use the term farm worker, I’m speaking to the people whose hands are doing the work and whose hands are undervalued. I’ve used both terms, but realistically farm workers are farmers..