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Words that make me cringe

DLP and I had an interesting discussion last night. Very thought-provoking even while trying to have the conversation in a hurry while putting kids to bed. That's why we're together!

17 year olds have the right to vote in IL now if it's the primary before a general election where they will be 18. They had high school students interviewing some of the Republican candidates for Governor (who are all universally idiots) and many of the answers treated the 17 year olds like children. I expected the viewer feedback on the news program to universally be opposed to teens in the voting booth, but was surprised that it went the other direction. The mail praised the kids and blasted (rightly) the condescending answers from the politicians.

The discussion between DLP and myself was then about the expectations we have for 17 year olds who haven't experienced much, generally, in life. And whether or not this was ageism to not hold teens to the same high standards you would, say, a 50 year old voter. (I tackle this topic quite a bit with newbies in triathlon, too, and how they are perceived.) I think the experienced should generally be welcoming to the inexperienced. Maybe it speaks to my own bias that I was expecting unflattering comments about the novices?

Which brings us to the first word that makes me cringe..."youngsters." Itself not a horrible word. It's the use. It bothers me because it comes with a tone and context that usually implies the user is looking down at the subject. Look at those cute youngsters! It puts the speaker in a weird relationship of false authority. If you unpack that more, I suppose it speaks to how society treats children and whether they are incapable of being fully formed humans until they reach the age of maturity or whether "youth" are independent beings who may need guidance but are not to be looked down on. I take the latter stance.

It also annoys me in the context of other age-related bias. "Youngster" usually happens in the context of older adults of a certain age. You rarely hear, say, a 30 year old refer to someone as a "youngster." Generation-wise, I think some older people get stuck in the mindset that these "youngster" inferiority issues remain even after the age of maturity. During the recent snows, the "back in my day" rants were getting tiresome. Snow and cold didn't stop previous generations of students! We were tougher! Parents today are soft! Nevermind that newer generations have access to more knowledge and information than ever. Could it be that previous generations were just stupid? I'm not saying point is more that old folks complaining about youngsters "these days" is stuck in a "decline of civilization" mentality that probably isn't the case. If you ask me which generation I'd rather be a part of, sorry, mine wins. The music may have been better, but we eat better, have the internet, and aren't hiding under our desks in the Cold War. Touche.

The other words that are currently on my bad side are "hobby farm."

For those of you not familiar with agricultural real estate, the family farm is dying. A slow, painful death. Despite the current hip, hot culture shift to urban gardens, sustainable CSAs, and organic family dairies, most American farmers are old. On the verge of retirement old. Not being replaced by younger farmers at a high enough rate.

So how does this relate to hobby farms?

As we complain about the rise of industrial, large-scale commercial farms, the shift to suburban and urban lifestyles has left the few remaining smaller-scale family farms as part of a strange middle ground...the hobby farm. If you're buying farm real estate--especially in the American Midwest--anything that isn't massive is considered...a hobby farm. I find the term somewhat condescending. It drips with the sad fact that small (usually older) American farms are not economically viable.

Now, we're not necessarily talking tiny here. Yes, a "hobby farm" could be anything as small as a half acre vegetable plot. But on the far end, you could be dealing with a 100 or 200 acre piece of land that still doesn't classify as "the real thing" because serious farms could be thousands of acres. The average size of the American farm in 1900 was 147 acres. Today, it's closer to 500 acres. (With a price tag probably closer to 7 figures.)

Not that a 50 acre farm is an easy thing to make a living with, don't get me wrong. We're talking about greater forces at play here. You're not going to make a living off of a non-diverse farm that size too frequently. You don't just have 50 acres of hogs, or sheep, or cows, or chickens. You need all those, plus marketing sense, plus luck, plus some side businesses in online sales, custom butchering, handmade wool items, a CSA, and maybe cutting hay for all your neighbors or chopping their wood for them.

It's a tough life but also one we need more respect for if we want to see fewer 1000 acre farms with genetically altered crops and pesticides, etc.. There are a few organizations (actually lots) trying to get young people especially into the farm business. Land is the key problem area. But also knowledge. When we all moved to the city, we lost our common sense about how to spread manure, stack hay, or keep chickens free from predators. Collectively, we as a nation lost a good piece of our heritage when we urbanized.

That's a piece of our history and culture I hope we can get back. But it will be tough as small farmers go up against huge corporations, big agribusiness, try to educate consumers, try to educate each other, and try to shift a whole segment of the economy in a more sustainable direction longterm.

So, there you go, that's why the real estate ads make me cringe. If you ever feel like browsing agricultural real estate ads (I'm sure you haven't considered it), think big or you're going to get shoved into the class of "hobby farms." Call it a "homestead" if you want. I think that term has its own ridiculous connotations.

Too many of our small family farms are sitting in, literally, a rotting condition in rural America. Have you ever driven in the country and noticed the condition of old barns? I certainly had seen them but never stopped to think about what that really means until recently.

What would you rather see on the American landscape? Barns the size of football stadiums containing thousands of animals, owned by a mega-company? Or, perhaps, like me you'd rather see a rebirth of the old barn where they dot the scenery with rural life being less about poverty and more about people being the source of their community's food via good stewardship of the land, animals, and nature.

No more hobby farms.