Would You Call 60,000 Cows Fenced Together on a Dirt Patch a "Farm?" | Environment | AlterNet
"When the Agriculture Department released its 2007 census recently, the news appeared surprisingly good: For the first time since World War II, the United States did not lose farms, it gained them -- 75,810, to be exact, for a total of 2.2 million."
But on closer inspection, the numbers aren't so hopeful. The discrepancy stems from this tricky question: What is a farm? The census has changed its definition nine times since 1850, most recently to "any place from which $1,000 or more of agricultural products were produced and sold, or normally would have been sold, during the census year."
This loose definition is meant to err on the side of inclusion, but ultimately it just errs. Take, for example, the four chickens I keep in my back yard. I sometimes sell eggs to neighbors, and at the going rate I could make $500 a year. If I got four more hens, my suburban home could qualify as a farm.
Silly, right? But where do you place the lower limit -- or the upper limit? The Cargill feedlot in Lockney, Texas, consists of 60,000 cattle kept in dirt yards and fattened on feed grown elsewhere. Is that a farm? While the census says yes, most Americans would say no.
So then, what is a farm? To answer that, we must first ask: Why do we care? Really, why is it good news when farms -- and, more importantly, the farmers who run them -- increase?