I’m driving alone on a pitch-black empty road, coming from the train station after catching the last train back from the City. Next thing I know, there’s a state trooper’s over-excessive spotlight glaring into my eyes. Here goes, I thought, interrogation from the tiny rural town’s chief A-hole in charge.
But the interrogation was of another kind. “You’re a farmer?!!” was all he could manage through a mocking grin with eyebrows raised so high I thought they would jump off of his face. I tried to soothe his confusion, and then found myself explaining why I had a Florida driver’s license, but lived on a farm in upstate NY, had previously lived in D.C. and just came from NYC where I was also farming last year. This didn’t seem to help. “Farming… in Brooklyn??!” he blurted out through refrained laughter as if I’d just told him that pigs could fly.
He was a brother from the Bronx-turned-state trooper Upstate. I was tired and didn’t feel like trying to figure out whether he was just bored and wanted to hear someone’s life story or if he was truly perplexed about my occupation. I couldn’t help but think it was the latter…this was not the first time I’ve received this reaction.
Just hours before in fact, I had met friends in the city for dinner – old friends from D.C. that I hadn’t seen in a while. We did the usual catching up, telling the other what we’ve been up to. Although they’ve known about my food and farming passions for a while now, they still performed the usual chuckle and lifted eyebrow routine when questioning me about actually farming, being in the country, and being the only brown girl out there.
It frustrated me a bit, but it’s been pretty common ever since I decided to delve into this world full time. This reaction is ultimately what sparked my interest in starting this blog – because I found all the different reactions to what I wanted to do so interesting, for a few reasons.
One, was a lot of the confused reactions to farming as an occupation in general – we are all so disconnected from the land and from our food that we find it unfathomable to pursue a career in agriculture; and/or that the fall of small-scale farming has been so great over the past 50 years that farmers are not even visible anymore and a career in farming isn’t an option for our generation. This has to change.
Two, was the different reactions I received depending on race – when I’d tell my friends that I wanted to farm, some of my Black friends would scrunch their nose up at the thought and make some reference to picking cotton, while some of my crunchier white friends would give me a “hell yeah” and mention their own interest in joining the WWOOF circuit. But in that crunchy circuit I felt like a transplant…
Come full circle after setting off on my journey to find farmers of color last year, and I find myself transplanted again – as the only brown farmer on the team and the brand new brown in town. I was in the town’s only bar last week, and the same reactions continued; but they were coming from other farmers, so this time I couldn’t help but think the surprise at me farming was because I didn’t look the part. “You look like a city girl” was the theme of the night from the guys lining the bar, as I stood there in my muddy boots and hoody, wondering exactly what a “city girl” looks like.
So what I’ve gathered is that “city farmer” “brown farmer” “young farmer” maybe even “female farmer” or just plain “farmer (in the modern world of 2011)” deeply confuses people. I really think this negative or exclusive perception of farming as a career is multifaceted. It’s due to a racial divide, but also an urban/rural divide, a generational divide and a gaping separation between humans and the land. We have to start changing this perception so that we can all begin to feel rooted, instead of transplanted. Then we can spread those roots more easily and make some real change for agriculture.