On the face of it, it would appear that small family farmers of the kind that are unkindly considered to be peasants in many societies and the more privileged locovores who engage in community farming and seek to encourage the local growing of fruits and vegetables and various crops and the tending of animals should have a lot in common. If I did not grow up particularly inclined to want to farm myself, I did at least have the opportunity to see how a family farm operates, how it seeks to gather enough labor to handle the day-to-day tasks of feeding and milking cattle, and how one grows corn and hay and uses alfalfa to nurture the soil and keep it productive so that one is able to operate as a farm, and how one uses a great deal of what one grows for one’s own operations. Likewise, other members of my family have been accomplished gardeners who showed how skill in the garden could greatly aid one’s logistics in ensuring a large amount of vegetables and fruit to use for one’s own recipes.
So far it would seem that someone with a background like mine would find a lot of sympathy with those who wish to grow their own food. Yet that does not seem to be the case. If I had to guess there is at least a bit of bad blood on both sides towards the other. Those who come from a background of family farming see their own living as being dependent on their farming, and farming is an endeavor that is particularly dependent on luck and food fortune. To be sure, there is a lot of skill involved in growing crops and raising animals, but at the same time one can do everything right and still find one’s efforts sabotaged by weather and other disasters. One time, for example, I visited Pennsylvania in the summer to find more than a month straight of rain that made it impossible to harvest hay, which threatened disaster to a group of dairy cattle that depended on winter hay given the cold winters of the area. When creation does not cooperate, nothing a farmer does can overcome such problems except by trying to cope as best as possible. This is not the experience of locovores, who frequently have a lucrative day job and can easily fulfill their needs through their income, and do not have the same sort of vulnerability that small family farms have.
There are other differences too. It has been my experience at least that family farms and gardens tend to be fairly simple in their approach. When one only has limited amounts of labor, and one has to live off of one’s crops or use one’s garden to substantially fill the needs of one’s food, there are stark limits to what one can do. By and large, though, elite part-time farmers do not have the same sort of labor limitations, being able to do part-time work in community gardens or able to supplement their labor limitations with the ability to hire others easily or even profit off of writing books about their experiences for other elite audiences. The envy of the poor against the rich and the contempt of the rich against the poor tend to create barriers to sympathy between people involved in essentially the same sort of activity, namely growing crops and raising animals for the purpose of eating in the knowledge that there is something spiritually useful in being close to the land and in limiting one’s dependence on international supply chains and dodgy food practices.
What would it take for there to be an alliance between family farmers and elitist hobby growers? I’m honestly not sure what it would take. A recognition of what people do differently might certainly help. To the extent, for example, that the presence of hobbyist growers helps develop a local infrastructure for local foods that increases the profitability of family farm operations, this would be an act of goodwill that would likely be reciprocated with the sort of advice and encouragement that might allow for the wisdom of generational farmers to enter a wider currency to those who have an interest in growing crops but who may lack the skill to do so as well as possible in dealing with local pests and conditions. It seems as if it is hard for people from the two backgrounds to get along with each other, and in a world like ours where elites tend to look down on rural people while at the same time seeking to emulate them in some fashion, some agreement is immensely worthwhile. For as much as we may have contempt for small farmers, we depend on them for our food supply, for any attempt to avoid dependence on agribusiness forces us to become some sort of family farmer or gardener or rancher ourselves.