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A Field Guide To Farmers

Now that farmer-watching has become more popular than bird-watching, urban people need a way to help them distinguish between the various breeds in case they want to rent one, or buy one for a personal pet. Farmers actually resemble other members of the human race in most respects. They walk upright if there is no wheeled vehicle available to ride, have cell phones hanging on their ears most of the time, and feed at short order restaurants more than in their natural environment of open fields.

Like the ivory-billed woodpecker, farmer numbers are decreasing because of urban encroachment on their natural habitat. Little is known about their behavior because they shun the public eye whenever possible. No one has heard their mating call although it is presumed that they do mate because, although the ones most often seen are well above the average breeding age, an immature farmer is occasionally spotted, flitting and fluttering around the giant tractors in which farmers like to nest.

Zoologists distinguish several sub-types of the species, among them the Big Farmer, Hobby Farmer, Part-time Farmer, Dirt Farmer, Mockingfarmer, and the Debt-Ridden Ground Grabber.

The male Ground Grabber is best identified by his red plumage reminiscent of red-headed woodpeckers. But the real high flyers are so far in the red that they look more like cardinals. The Ground Grabber is very territorial, trying his best to stake out for himself enough land so he can plant it during the spring migration going north and then harvest it going south in the fall.

A Big Farmer is anyone who farms more land than the farmer you are talking to.

Hobby Farmers make their living doing something else and farm because they think of it as fun, if you can imagine that. As soon as they learn how to raise a bushel of zucchini successfully, they feel obliged to tell Ground Grabbers how to grow a hundred thousand bushels of soybeans.

Part-time Farmers differ from Hobby Farmers in that they no longer think farming is all that much fun. They need to make some money at it now. They work very hard at their other job to pay for their farming habit. It is hard to buy or rent a purebred Part-timer anymore because even most Big Farmers have another source of income so they can buy gas for their motor homes and lake cruisers between planting and harvest when cash is in short supply.

The Dirt Farmer is embarrassed to learn that because of land inflation and subsidies, he is suddenly a millionaire several times over. He never planned for that and does not want a motor home or a lake cruiser. He goes around in bib overalls, making remarks like “ain’t them sixty row corn planters purty” to make salespeople think he is stupid, and proudly waves the flag of capitalism while accepting millions of dollars of welfare capital from the government. However, the Dirt Farmer contributes greatly to the well-being of the food supply by studiously ignoring well-meaning experts who criticize the way he farms.

Mockingfarmers grow bib overalls only as summer plumage but can be distinguished from Dirt Farmers because they like to feed on street corners and at university symposiums where Dirt Farmers rarely show up. (Dirt Farmers suspect that symposiums are places you go to watch dirty dancing.) Mockingfarmers are often the adult offspring of the urban rich, playing a game called Mockfarming. However they do a lot of public relations good for agriculture because they know how to talk to city dwellers. When the New York Times sends one of its crack reporters out to Windy Plains, Kansas, to get real grassroots reactions, the reporter invariably runs into a Mockingfarmer who takes him to the nearest bar and fills his recorder with grandly quotable remarks as long as the reporter will keep buying the beer.

The Tax Farmer is a rich investor who thinks he can cheat Uncle out of paying his taxes by investing in farm land. The real payoff for a Tax Farmer is to be able to refer to his investment as “my farm” while talking to fellow surgeons or fellow NBA stars. The ultimate in worldly success is to be able to say, “my farms.” The Tax Farmer is the only kind who really benefits from subsidies but gravy money only means he will eventually have to pay more taxes. Uncle understands this very well.

(An earlier version of this piece appeared in The New Farm magazine in December, 1979 under a pen name, Chester White. The editor did not want me to use my real name because I was on the staff and he feared I would alienate the entire readership.)

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