What is a farm? It seems like a question where a punch line follows because the answer seems far too simple and obvious. For most of this country’s population, a farm is a place where plants are grown and/or animals are raised. In school students learn all about the different types of farms; the animals, produce, fruits, fibers and the thousands of other products that come from farms. What is a farm? The dictionaries, encyclopedias, internet research, interviews, the law makers and the government all have a different definition of what a farm is and the answers revel that it is far from a simple question.
Delaware County has a history that reflects the changing face of farming as the needs and trends of the population have changed. The current crisis of the small dairy industry is a painful situation that does not have to do with needs or trends but corruption and shortsightedness of huge corporate enterprises. Most people hope for the current system to right itself and preserve the small farm heritage and necessity, not just for dairy farms but for all small, diverse and innovative farms. Changes in farming have influenced this area in the past with such businesses as the tanneries, the cauliflower growers and the chicken farms that have played important roles in population and economics here.
New farms and farm related businesses have started to fill some gaps in the local area and they are making larger and larger contributions to the vitality of farming here. These new ventures, many of them in the early stages as start up’s just as dairy farming was a century ago but they too are real farms, many with plans to enlarge as they become established and create markets for their products.
Losing one more once successful industry is not a favorable outcome that could be called progress so fighting to preserve the dairy industry here is worth every community member becoming involved. Dairy farmers are much more than the actual farms when the associated businesses, jobs, population needs and money that stays local are all considered but all small farms here are important, even if its beginnings are what some say are not real farms but simply hobby or retirement farms.
It is interesting to consider what a ‘real’ farm is versus one that would appear to some as folly, an amusement not to be taken seriously. Origins of the word ‘farm’ began not with plants and animals but with taxation through following the hunters, the cultivation of crops and domestication of animals led to stationary settlements coming into existence. The dictionary gives more than a few definitions, some relating to taxes before listing: a tract of land devoted to agriculture, to grow and cultivate in quantity, a plot of land devoted to raising of animals especially domestic, a tract of water reserved for the artificial cultivation of some aquatic life form and to engage in raising crops, animals or fish. The encyclopedia directs seekers of what a farm is to: see agriculture. The summary of agriculture is: The art of making land more productive.
United States is unique in that it quickly became a farm melting pot. Every household was a small farm of sorts to begin with, relying on the Native Americans or Mother England for staples but delegation of duties based on skill and property led some settlers to begin specializing in livestock and crop production for a means of income. Every immigrant came with their own seeds, animals, cultivation and husbandry practices, haling from nations that maintained the same practices for centuries. This was the start of a changing nation with tremendous agricultural diversity that is currently evolving dangerously into a singular conglomerate mono-farm society.
At various times in U.S. History, the states and federal governments have attempted to define farms for census, insurance, zoning, laws and taxation purposes. Nationally the definition of what a farm is has changed nine times since 1850 but has remained intact with one description since 1975. The structuring of this summary addressed issues such whether a farm was defined by acreage, output of finances, location, ownership or lease, income or number of employees. The current United States Department of Agriculture criteria for what a farm is as follows: “any place from which $1,000 or more of agricultural products are produced and sold or normally would have been sold during the census year.” The criteria is widened even further with a point system that would make up for agricultural enterprises that did not produce $1,000 in sales.
With that being established, the government has elaborated with three categories of farms. The rural residence farms include limited-resource, retirement and residential lifestyle farms. The intermediate farms include farming occupation/lower-sales and farming occupation/higher sales farms. Commercial farms include large, very large and nonfamily farms with sales that exceed $250,000 annually or are operated by corporations or hired manager. Fitting within these parameters, large or small, all are considered ‘real’ farms.
Preserving the established farms we have in Delaware County along with encouraging new farm ventures means understanding the importance of all farms, heritage or start ups. Recognizing the values of all small farms means realizing that they all contribute to the health of our population, the vitality of our communities and future sustainability. Find out more about taking action to preserve and create farms in Delaware County by becoming a member of a local not for profit organization called Farm Catskills. The web site is www.farmcatskill.org
, email firstname.lastname@example.org
or write to 87 Sal Bren Road, Suite 1, Delhi, NY 13753.