Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Don’t Let Your Children Grow Up to Become Farmers

"Don’t Let Your Children Grow Up to Be Farmers." That was the title of an op-ed piece in the NY Times circling around my Facebook feed this week. You may have read it yourself, but if not here's the gist:  there is no money in farming with integrity as a small business model. It’s a nearly-impossible way to make a living. Those organic veggies at your local farmers' market, the CSA share you may or may not have invested in, the truck hauls to busy city centers to deliver box club splits…. It’s a dog-eat-dog shit show. A constant competition between “hobby" farms (some are a recreation of the wealthy for land tax breaks in the same farmer's market as  commercial growers) and nonprofit farms who have boards of directors to hand out new tractors instead of resorting to begging a bank for a loan. It was a good article and as a good point was made. Farming as your sole source of income is no way to get rich and getting harder all the time, even among this recent food movement. And that was why the title was what it was, to grab your attention and point out how hard the much-applauded small farm business is. Don’t let your children grow up to be farmers was a warning, and an earnest one.

The article ends with issues farmers need to fight for, like loan forgiveness for college grads (I personally would love this one) who pursue agriculture and better wages for every part of the food-growing system. Like I said, it was a powerful article and well written and I agree with him on all points but one:

Let your children grow up to be farmers.

Let your children grow up to become farmers. Let them know what it is like to be free from fluorescent lights and laser-pointer meetings. Let them challenge themselves to be forever resourceful and endlessly clever. Let them whistle and sing loud as they like without getting called into an office for "disturbing the workforce." Let them commute down a winding path with birdsong instead of a freeway's constant growl. Let them be bold. Let them be romantic. Let them grow up not having to ask another adult for permission to go to the dentist at 2PM on a Thursday. Let them get dirty. Let them kill animals. Let them cry at the beauty of fallow earth they just signed the deed for. Let them bring animals into this world, and realize they don’t care about placenta on their shirt because they no longer care about shirts. Let them wake up during a snowstorm and fight drifts at the barn door instead of traffic. Let them learn what real work is. Let them find happiness in the understanding that success and wealth are not the same thing. Let them skip the fancy wedding. Let them forget four years of unused college. Let them go. Let them go home.

Farming never has been, and never will be, an easy life but for many it is an easy choice. For me it was the only choice. Perhaps that is what it takes? Being a farmer means wanting to do it more than anything else. It means giving up things other people take for granted as givens, like travel and the latest fashion, new cars and 401k plans. It means making choices your peers won’t understand, your family will disapprove of, and other farmers will scoff at. It means making a decision and owning it, really owning it the way few people get to own anything in their lives anymore. Let your children grow up to know this responsibility. Let them literally put food on the table, lift up their bootstraps, and learn how much effort a life worth living entails.

I have been living on this farm full-time for nearly two years, and it has never been without worry. But that heavy blanket of anxiety is full of many, tiny, holes that let in brilliant beams of light, as many as there are stars! And those pieces of light I have reached have changed me so much. They are mountaintop rides on a draft horse, meals I knew as chicks and seeds, and finding a spiritual home in the everyday work and rythyms of my life. The version of me who was too scared to farm would certainly be more solvent, but she wouldn’t be happy. She wouldn’t know how to hunt deer, ride a horse, plant a garden, or butcher a chicken. It is only in the last few decades of abnormal history that these skills were considered recreational or outdated. And perhaps that NY Times writer will find himself in a much better place financially when local food goes from being a novelty of the so-inclined to the staples his community depends on when gas prices, natural disasters, political climates or any other disruption in the cattle cars of modern civilization start to hiccup.

And that may be the best reason to let you children grow up to become farmers: they can feed themselves. They can achieve the most basic of human needs in a society clueless about how to take care of themselves without a car and a supermarket. Becoming a farmer isn’t in financial fashion right now, that is sadly true, but it will be again. As long as people need to eat there will be a business in doing so and it’s up to each farmer to find his or her niche, celebrate it, unapologetically accept good money for it, and keep doing it far past the point of reason. Any son or daughter of mine that dared to be so bold would not be discouraged from facing the world with such fierceness for simplicity. Antlers on fire can set a lot more holes in a dark blanket.

Let your children grow up to become farmers. There is a surplus of mediocrity in this nation and a deficit of bravery. Let your children grow up to be farmers. Let them be brave.

Photo by Miriam Romais

24 Comments:

Blogger barbsbirds13 said...

Awesome article, Jenna. Would make a great letter to editors of well read newspapers.

August 12, 2014 at 11:08 PM  
Blogger barbsbirds13 said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

August 12, 2014 at 11:08 PM  
Blogger Mary Wilson said...

Haven't read the article, but it does strike me that if one intends to let one's children grow up to be eaters. working to support farmers is a good idea.

August 13, 2014 at 12:00 AM  
Blogger Cindy said...

That last paragraph should be shouted from every American rooftop.

August 13, 2014 at 6:21 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth from the Berkshires said...

I wish the NYT would publish this one, too. One of my mottos has been "Make choices based on love, not on fear," and that's missing from the original article. But never from yours. :)

August 13, 2014 at 6:25 AM  
Blogger Cat H said...

Beautifully said.

August 13, 2014 at 6:47 AM  
OpenID thekitchensgarden.com said...

Absolutely agree that one of the most important things to learn is how to feed yourself.Lucky us with a little land and the opportunity to do just that.. excellent article. I think everyone should be a farmer, but it is a little easier if someone has a part time job as well! But I eat what I grow and I love that!.. nice to meet you.. c

August 13, 2014 at 7:45 AM  
Blogger pitcherda said...

I'm not sure you can compare being a farmer to a career choice. When I think of being a farmer I compare it to such things as pioneer, visionary, homesteader, artist, builder, creator, hard worker, etc.

I don't make significant money off of farming but my children tend chickens, pick peas and carrots for fun, water trees, harvest fruits and vegetables and animals, and make homemade salves and sauces.

If my children grow up to make money as a doctor I still hope they plant a garden, milk a cow and are all those things I listed above. For me, I'm growing children not corn but I still consider myself a farmer even though I make money doing something else. I sure hope my children grow up to become farmers as well.

August 13, 2014 at 8:41 AM  
Blogger pitcherda said...

I'm not sure you can compare being a farmer to a career choice. When I think of being a farmer I compare it to such things as pioneer, visionary, homesteader, artist, builder, creator, hard worker, etc.

I don't make significant money off of farming but my children tend chickens, pick peas and carrots for fun, water trees, harvest fruits and vegetables and animals, and make homemade salves and sauces.

If my children grow up to make money as a doctor I still hope they plant a garden, milk a cow and are all those things I listed above. For me, I'm growing children not corn but I still consider myself a farmer even though I make money doing something else. I sure hope my children grow up to become farmers as well.

August 13, 2014 at 8:41 AM  
Blogger farm foreman said...

Many households rely on more than one source of income; that state of affairs is not unique to farm households. The Times op-ed made that sound undesirable, but diversification makes for a more creative and durable household. That way, if you lose one source you haven't lost everything.

I haven't done better than break even on my rented farmland---yet--but it takes time, especially when you begin from a flat-footed start. We learn every year, and this, my 7th year, looks to be the best so far.

The writer's points are well-taken, and the fact that farming takes grit to succeed only means we need more people in this crazy fray.

Submit your response piece to the Times, girlfriend! Their (largely non-farmer) readers need to get another point of view.

August 13, 2014 at 9:44 AM  
Blogger farm foreman said...

Many households rely on more than one source of income; that state of affairs is not unique to farm households. The Times op-ed made that sound undesirable, but diversification makes for a more creative and durable household. That way, if you lose one source you haven't lost everything.

I haven't done better than break even on my rented farmland---yet--but it takes time, especially when you begin from a flat-footed start. We learn every year, and this, my 7th year, looks to be the best so far.

The writer's points are well-taken, and the fact that farming takes grit to succeed only means we need more people in this crazy fray.

Submit your response piece to the Times, girlfriend! Their (largely non-farmer) readers need to get another point of view.

August 13, 2014 at 9:44 AM  
Blogger farm foreman said...

Many households rely on more than one source of income; that state of affairs is not unique to farm households. The Times op-ed made that sound undesirable, but diversification makes for a more creative and durable household. That way, if you lose one source you haven't lost everything.

I haven't done better than break even on my rented farmland---yet--but it takes time, especially when you begin from a flat-footed start. We learn every year, and this, my 7th year, looks to be the best so far.

The writer's points are well-taken, and the fact that farming takes grit to succeed only means we need more people in this crazy fray.

Submit your response piece to the Times, girlfriend! Their (largely non-farmer) readers need to get another point of view.

August 13, 2014 at 9:44 AM  
Blogger Jessica said...

Amen. The "let your children grow up to be farmers" paragraph brought tears to my eyes.

August 13, 2014 at 9:58 AM  
Blogger Rusty in Miami said...

Well said, I agree you should send this response to the Times

August 13, 2014 at 10:05 AM  
Blogger Jennifer Montero said...

Thanks for the inspiration. I was feeling disheartened after going into a store yesterday to see half a lamb being sold for £20 less than it costs me to produce one. Because loving care and welfare standards aren't remunerative. Sigh. Still, I love my job, AND my overpriced sheep.

August 13, 2014 at 11:28 AM  
Blogger live pura vida said...

Amen. I turned 30 years old this year and I still want to grow up to be a farmer :)

August 13, 2014 at 11:36 AM  
Blogger Su Ba said...

Bravo! Well said! I was 55 before I finally took the plunge and began my homestead farming life. It was what my spirit had always wanted. I don't regret making the change. My spirit now sings.

August 13, 2014 at 2:04 PM  
Blogger Sparkless said...

Heck, we should all be farmers. Not only would our health be better but our pocketbooks would be bigger if we all grew some of our own food.

August 13, 2014 at 3:12 PM  
Blogger Nancy po said...

I just read the original article, good ideas...

August 13, 2014 at 5:18 PM  
Blogger mandy said...

That's a beautiful photo!

August 14, 2014 at 7:27 AM  
Blogger doglady said...

My question to the NYT is if there are no farmers, what do you plan to eat?

August 15, 2014 at 6:38 AM  
Blogger Crisy said...

Brought me to tears Jenna - Thank you

August 15, 2014 at 6:52 PM  
Blogger Jenny Kelly Wagner said...

I like what you say about farming eventually coming back into fashion, financially speaking. After all, what could be more practical than reconnecting to the process of our own survival (and the health of our souls)?

August 16, 2014 at 9:37 PM  
Blogger Laura Beck said...

I laughed and I cried in recognition when I read your article. Thank you for writing it. I started a farm a year and a half ago, and it is as hard and as challenging as you say but I love it and it is all that I want to do.

One of the things I love most about it is that I can be wild. Now I don’t need to bother with presenting a conventional image to help lubricate my work life. I am free, absolutely free to be. I am free to be shaped by this geography, this sun, these winds, these cattle beasts. And as much as the milk and meat and vegetables are a product of this farm so am I.

I love that this increased sensitivity to nature is vital in attuning my body for my work. That knowing the feel of the wind is not just a nicety but a tool in understanding and informing my work decisions. And then I understand that I am nature, not observer but deep in dirt, in wind in water –with it.

I love that when I care for these animals that I do so without withholding love even though I know I will be killing them to eat. I love that there is a sadness in this and think that that is perhaps how all meat eating should be entered in to.
I try to always work from a place of love not fear and when I remember this the blanket of anxiety falls away a bit. So it is nice to read your blog, to now and then, not feel like the other.

November 12, 2014 at 10:30 PM  

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