Yesterday listening to Maine Public Radio I heard a story about an international organization listing Maine as the most peaceful state in the union. This was based on the amount of violent crime, number of police officers and several other factors. All of this got me to thinking about farming statistics. I had recently stumbled upon a factoid about Maine being the state with the most organic farms smaller than five acres. So I decided to check out USDA stats on my home state. I discovered a couple of interesting things such as that only .06% of Maine farms are owned by corporations ( a very good thing) and that the average age of Maine farmers is 56.4 years (almost exactly my age).
But then I noticed something that I knew but had kind of forgotten: a link on the side of the page that said “make sure I’m counted”. Yes, you pretty much have to opt in to be counted as a farmer by the USDA. I started being a part of this process a few years ago and now they regularly send me surveys to complete and send back. I also register my beehives with the state because that allows me to call the state beekeeper when I have a questions or I want him to come out and inspect my hives.
Now I have had this discussion with some of my more radical farming friends. They don’t want to be in any government statistics or to register their animals (even their bees) or anything else that might lead to government intruding into their farming lives. I certainly can understand the sentiment but I don’t feel the need to follow their lead in this. My fear is that small organic farmers will become more and more invisible to the powers that be. That allows the government to pretend we don’t exist and therefore deserve no consideration.
When the USDA first started talking about making us tattoo and register all of our livestock (tough to do with bees) plus all the other excessive regulatory paperwork I was at a farming conference talking with friends about the coming regulations. We pondered what we would do if the USDA rule making process made it too burdensome to adhere to all the rules and regulations. One of my friend said, “Well we’ll just keep on doing what we are doing but it will be illegal”. And I knew he was right. If the USDA had not made the $500,000 exemption on the food safety regulation a lot of my farming friends would have become outlaws simply by continuing to farm in the way that they always have. Not that there aren’t still attempts
to uber regulate small farmers that threaten their way of life.
So being counted has it’s pluses and minuses. For right now I am happy to be one of the small organic farms that appear in the statistical rolls and remind those making the rules that we are here and a part of the picture they need to be considering.