So, start up the cheesy 80’s Loverboy tune … “Don’t ask me how, but guess who hit the big time?”  That’s right! I’ve got farm plates! It’s a pretty big deal! Well, to me at least!

A while ago I blogged about how I’d always been envious of farmers who rated having farm plates. In Ontario you need to have farm income of $7,000/year to call yourself a farmer. For years we had a bit of farm income from selling garlic and a few veggies, but it didn’t amount to much. I was a “farmer wannabe.”

I assumed farm plates held magical status. I assumed farmers were so important that the government basically gave you the plates as opposed to having to pay the regular $75/year registration fee. I assumed other privileges were bestowed upon those in possession of these mythical pieces of tin … priority seating at cultural events, discounts at drive-through restaurants, head-of-the-line status at car washes … that sort of thing.

Well it turns out, that’s not the case. In fact, it turns out that farm plates are more expensive that regular plates. When I finally reached the income level required for my promotion to the big leagues of farm culture, I discovered they cost an extra $10. What? Why all the fuss? Turns out that the only advantage I can see to having farm plates is that I don’t have to have my vehicle emissions tested when I renew the plates every 2 years. This seems kind of strange to me since most of the pickups I see with farm plates are way newer than mine and would probably pass emissions tests with flying colors. Well, let me rephrase that. “Many” of the farm trucks I see are late model. There are the two solitudes of farming. The large scale ‘real’ farmers with big tractors and farm loans and many acres under cultivation and can use a new truck for a tax write off, and then there is the smaller scale, under-funded, struggling farmer who drives a ratty old pickup and can hardly afford to keep it on the road. I fall into the second category. Although my 2000 Ford Ranger seems pretty late model to me compared to my previous truck.

Being able to avoid the emissions test can be a big deal. The test is $35 and you need one every two years, beginning when your vehicle is 7 years old. If you don’t pass you have to get your vehicle repaired and then take the test again.

Don’t get me wrong, as an environmentalist I’m a big supporter of keeping engines burning cleaning. Heck, I say ban all vehicles from the roads. But the Ontario “Drive Clean” program seems kind of arbitrary sometimes.

I was also kind of devastated to learn that there was no fancy documentation required to get farm plates, much of which I am now in possession of since I’d hit the magical $7,000 threshold. Nope, when you get your plates you just tick a box and say, “Yup, I’m a farmer” and they give them to you. No test of qualification. No documentation. No farm visit, they just take your word for it. Any accountant in the city can call herself a farmer. I’m presuming at some point the provincial government ministry has some way to cross check with the federal income tax ministry to ensure you’re all above board, but I seem to read an awful lot of stuff that suggests that one hand of the government isn’t talking to the other hand most of the time.

Regardless, I’ve got the plates on and I’ve got to say, there’s a slightly more noticeable swagger when I walk into the feed mill to buy layer mash (for you non-farmers, this is the ‘chicken feed’ we buy for our egg-laying chickens) (and when I say ‘non-farmers’ just so we’re clear, I’m saying this with a mock arrogance, because I just learned the difference a few days ago myself.) Now when I toss that bag of chicken feed into the back of the truck, my plates scream, “I’m a farmer.” That’s right, you can read about it right there, on my plates. It’s in writing so it has to be true. Who else could get ‘Farm’ plates, other than a real farmer?

The experience has been a bit anti-climatic though, I must say. I was kind of of hoping for a little more fan-fare. Maybe not fireworks and a marching band, but at least a visit from the Minister of Agriculture, thanking me for my contributions. In my province, our Premier Kathleen Wynne is also the Minister of Agriculture so she obviously gets the importance of farmers. What – she couldn’t have take half a day and have her black SUV caravan drive out here for a handshake and photo-op? Heck, I would have even driving in to Toronto if she’d wanted to meet the newest farmer.

Alas, I have to just internalize my pride in my newfound status in the farming community. I got a load of straw for the chicken coop last weekend and so I spent a lot of time chatting with one of the Embry’s, who farm on a much larger scale than me. About 10,000 acres larger by the sound of it. But that didn’t matter. I was buying straw and we were loading it in a pickup with farm plates. Yea, I used to do electronic publishing, I used to do corporate communications, and websites, and publish books about renewable energy and sustainable living. Now I’m a farmer. And it feels way more prestigious. More important. More relevant.

I asked Michelle to take a photo of me in front of my new farm plates. Jasper the Wonder Dog wanted to get involved. Jasper is a farm dog. He came from a big dairy farm. A big operation. One night at the dairy farm he saved the lives of the cattle by barking enough to wake everyone up when there was a fire in the barn!  As farm dogs go, he’s kind of a big deal. And check this out; I got the official recognition and handshake after all. Well, pawshake. Handshake, pawshake, whatever. Look ma, it’s official, I’m a Farmer!

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