From the Farm: Farm life no less appealing than city life
From the Farm
Many people have an interest in farming. As an organic farmer, I hear people tell me that they were raised on a farm or that one of their family members was, or is a farmer. I also hear a lot of people tell me that they wish they could farm. What is interesting is that most of the American population at one time was engaged in farming.
It has been said that farming was the original enterprise and all other trades followed. Perhaps this is because food is our most basic need. In any case, over the last 150 years, more and more people have decided to get out of farming.
There are many reasons as to why so many Americans have lost their connection to farming. Improvements in technology and the demands of a faster paced society have something to do with it. During Nixon’s presidency there was even a campaign for American farmers to “get big or get out.” Today the average age of the American farmer is over 60 and only about 2 percent of our population is actively farming. What hasn’t changed is that everyone still eats food.
I also hear a lot of people suggest that farming is hard. As a full-time farmer, I often wonder if it’s any harder than other enterprises. Sure a farmer’s work is at the mercy of the weather, but waiting for my field to dry seems more appealing than sitting in traffic on my way to and from work. Of course I’m sure there are farmers who have to do both. It’s worth considering that in some respect Americans have made many sacrifices to the quality of our lives as agriculture has become more removed from our nation’s focus.
Consider what is appealing about farming. Why do people tell me that they wish they could farm? Why do they reminisce about being at their grandparent’s farm, or their aunt’s and uncle’s farm, or their own farm when they were kids? If you read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books, such as “Little House on the Prairie,” you will notice the kids describing their admiration for nature and farming in profound ways. You will notice they got their exercise, their health, their entertainment and their way of life through the act of farming.
Initially, most would reject the farming lifestyle as boring, but keep in mind that it’s not the 1800s any more. Farming will always be about dirt, water, sunshine and some amount of labor but the enterprise of farming is incredibly rewarding. Perhaps it’s the rewards that people reminisce about. Perhaps it’s the rewards that kids gravitate toward and seem to enjoy so much. Maybe enjoyment is the biggest reward of all. The fresh air, open space, fresh food and purposeful work might be what is appealing.
On a traditional farm the family might share all three meals. Rising with the sun to walk out of the house to tend animals or care for field crops is quite different than making your way through an urban environment to an office, yet more and more people are moving to our nation’s cities. As humans, I think we naturally connect with the earth. We connect to the sounds of the wind, the feelings that go with planting and gathering food, and the cycle of light as the sun moves across the sky. Recently I read an article in the Sacramento Bee that suggested going camping to help reset your body’s internal clock if you are having a hard time sleeping or falling asleep. You could go camping, or work on a farm.
Traditionally farming kept everyone in a family active. Farming yielded good quality food and the whole enterprise gave purpose and connection to those involved. Most folks raised on a farm or working in a farming family will tell you they experience a strong family connection. Activity, good food and purposeful connection tends to create good health. Often I stop for water or just to take a break, and I look around the field at all the beautiful colors and I think this is the safest, healthiest job I could have.
Many working farms today are quite different than the ideal picture perfect farms depicted of the past. As greater pressure was put on fewer farmers, these farms were basically forced to industrialize, leading to longer hours and worse conditions. This equation turned a lot of farms into factories and so many of the rewards of farming were lost. Due to this reality, most people’s involvement in agriculture has been reduced to picking items out at the grocery store and trading money for a convenience.
Interestingly though, there is now a lot of talk about deporting much of the Mexican labor force that sustains California’s farming industry and the cost of our food may go up, making the convenience more questionable. Don’t get me wrong, the grocery store is a fantastic thing. I love modern conveniences, but a sacrifice is a sacrifice and I think it’s important to reflect on what we have lost in exchange for what we have gained.
As I mature, I’ve learned to see the authenticity of many professions. Obviously none are more or less important than another. It takes a builder, a writer, a farmer, a shoe maker, a leader, a teacher, an engineer and so on to make a community. I just have to wonder why so many have been led to believe that farming is less appealing than a tech job in the city.
Small scale organic farming today holds the potential to revive the appeal and benefits of a farming lifestyle, and many people are already enjoying the rewards of this profession. One thing is for sure, the availability of healthy food will always be the foundation of a healthy society.
Ben Woods is an organic farmer who owns and operates Mama Earth Farm in Somerset, California, just south of Placerville. His farm offers a local weekly produce box, attends local farmer’s markets, and sells to a couple of local grocery stores. Mama Earth Farm sells produce from April to November. More information can be found at http://www.mamaearthfarm.com. Contact Woods at firstname.lastname@example.org.