Farming is for Everyone!
If I had a nickel for every time someone told me that “Farming isn’t for everyone”, I’d most certainly be able to retire early. I understand what they mean. The work is challenging. You’re up early and stay up late doing all of the tasks that need doing in the short window of time that you can do them. It’s a job that runs the full gamut of manual labor:digging garden beds, transplanting, harvesting, lifting crates of vegetables to market, bags of soil for seeding plants, hucking bales of hay into the barn for your animals to survive on all winter. You’re at the mercy of forces of natural beyond your control; insects, disease, extreme weather. It can be a lesson in humility to say the least. I’ve turned over more failed crops than I can count, determined to plant again and redeem the farm before the killing frost sweeps through and liberates me from (some) of my duties.
To some people, this doesn’t sound like an endeavor with pursuing. After all, most of the things I grow on my farm, I can purchase easily at the supermarket. To me, this sounds like a small price to pay to live a life that I have dreamed of since I was a tiny version of myself. Simply put: I’ve always wanted to live this way. Each morning without a moment of dread over what lies ahead for the day, I go about my morning chores of feeding our dairy goats, chickens, pigs and livestock guardian dogs, doling out hay when there is no pasture to move them to or moving them to pasture when there is no need for hay in it’s stead. It is a great joy to me. After feeding the menagerie, I check the fence for shorts or downed lines and then spend a little bit of time tidying the barn and visiting with all of the animals while I have my first hot coffee of the day. This part of my routine gives me a chance to check them for any health issues, to bond with them so that they are comfortable in my presence, and it’s just the most incredible way to start your morning. One’s spirit cannot tire of it, though one’s body may, on occasion, give out. This is the stuff that fortifies the soul. I can’t imagine I’d get very far in my endeavor without it.
After the livestock are sufficiently tended to, I change into field clothes and head into the garden to see what’s good. Now onto my second cup of coffee, I’m amped up and ready to tackle the most strenuous part of my day. As I write this, my plan this morning is to mow the walking paths, prep garden beds for fall planting, harvest cucumbers, squash, peppers and tomatoes for a restaurant and weed and side dress our Shishito peppers. This part of my work varies from moment to moment, day to day, even month to month. In the spring, we focus almost every ounce of our being on babies: goat kids, piglets, starting seeds to be planted in newly prepped garden beds. The late spring and summer is usually a combination of maintaining current crops, harvesting and selling mature crops, and prepping to plant more for fall. Fall rolls in, and we’re maintaining still, harvesting more than ever and putting parts of the farm to rest for the winter. Winter is time for rest, reflection, planning and of course, mountains of paperwork. It’s never boring, rarely repetitive and has cultivated in me some qualities that I never had before I embarked on farming as a career: a voracious appetite for learning, a healthy and sometimes not-so-healthy competitive attitude, a determination evergreen and profound reverence for nature. If I never sell another heirloom tomato for as long as I live. I’d say I’ve already gotten what I need from our farm, plus extra.
And so, while I can agree that this kind of work certainly isn’t for everyone, I disagree that farming itself isn’t for everyone. We all eat. We all breathe air and drink water. We’re all touched by what industry is capable of doing to our natural resources and communities. So perhaps it’s fair to say that we all have some skin in the game. Some understanding and appreciation beyond the platitudes of eating local might just be in order if we are ever going to reach a point where industry doesn’t exist to the detriment of environment and human wellbeing. Farming is most certainly for everyone. Perhaps you didn’t plant those carrots from seed and pluck them out of the ground, it doesn’t mean that you needn’t concern yourself with the hows-and-whys of how it got to your plate. It’s an important understanding to have, as a living being on this planet. What is soil? What is a seed? What are the different methods of growing used in this country? How was this carrot grown? Who grew it? How can you participate in the process of food production in a way that is helpful, that elevates everyone involved?
While this line of questioning can sound like a lot of work for just a few carrots, once you’ve done the work on a few products, by then you will have likely found the farmers in your area that you can trust to produce the sort of food that you want to eat. Ideally, these farmers will be, like many, thoughtful stewards of their land and dedicated to ethical treatment of their animals. No one farmer is perfect, just as no human is perfect, and we’re all taking steps each season to become better at what we do, so if you would like to see a certain sort of product produced a certain way, strike up a polite conversation about it. Farmers are generally overworked and emotionally committed to their work, so a gentle hand is recommended. But ultimately, we want people in our communities to be supportive so that we can fulfill our commitment to produce beautiful, healthful and delicious foods that the people in our community are eager to buy. You have a part to play in that. Please embrace it!