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Program Post: Why Do Farmers Farm?


Each Thursday, ASAP’s programs take you behind the scenes of their work. This week, our Local Food Research Center presents some of the responses they’ve gathered to this important question: When the challenges are so numerous and the stakes so high, what is it that keeps farming families in the business?

From ASAP’s Local Food Research Center

As part of our research to better understand and support the local food system in the Southern Appalachians, the Local Food Research Center has looked into the reasons farmers choose to farm. When the challenges are so numerous and the stakes so high, what is it that keeps farming families in the business? A Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) grant is allowing our team to conduct interviews over the next two years with farmers in Western North Carolina to find out why local producers farm. We’ve just analyzed the results from our first round of interviews, and right away we’re learning that our farmers choose farming—as opposed to some other money-making vocation—because they have a passion for it.

Why WNC Farmers Farm

Many of the farmers we recently talked to spoke about the relationship they have developed with the land and how that relationship has become an important piece of their identity. One farmer noted: “You’re accustomed to working on the land and with nature, with the seasons…it becomes something [that’s] more a part of you than anything else.”

Our participants also remarked on the sense of independence and satisfaction that comes from producing something from start to finish, and the gratification that comes from being your own boss. They enjoy being part of a productive process and experience great satisfaction in seeing the fruits of their labor. One farmer said: “I enjoy being my own boss. I enjoy working for myself and seeing a return in the work that I do.”

And still others spoke about the way farming connects them to their community by allowing them to be stewards of the the land, a precious resource. This feeling of connection can especially be seen in the words of one farmer who said: “I think a word that a lot farmers identify with is steward…because we’re stewards of the land. [There is that] connection with the land and that connection to the community and that kind of dynamic relationship, and I feel like [my work] really falls into that.”

In analyzing the interviews, it’s clear that income and financial benefits are far from being the only reasons that farmers farm. Instead, our sampling revealed a group of people who choose to cultivate the land because farming is their calling; it connects them to life and to the world in a way that a simple “job” never could.

We look forward to talking with our farmers again this fall!

Tell us, farmers and aspiring farmers: Why do you/do you want to farm for a living?

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