For the past six weeks or so I’ve been pondering why I chose to go farming. What is it that so attracted me to all that is involved with this game, particularly as I had no recent family connection to the land. I need to say that I’ve been having a hard time of it, articulating why I farm.
I know I love it – the lifestyle; the connection to many aspects of the environment – climate, soil, nature, wildlife; the hard work that gives you a tangible result at the end of each and every day, and yes it is every day; marvelling at nature as she gives you seeds to turn into plants over and over and over again, every year for millennia. But I was still keen to pin it down.
Then last week a couple of articles came through on social media. The first, ‘Don’t Let Your Children Grow Up to Be Farmers’ appeared in the New York Times and was penned by Bren Smith, a shellfish and seaweed farmer from Long Island. Bren lamented that despite the local food movement and the proliferation of farmers markets, small scale farmers aren’t making a living. He went on to suggest possible courses of action to remedy this, mostly in the macro-economic arena. All in all a well written and researched article.
Not surprisingly, it garnered some responses, most notably from a leader of the small scale farming movement, Joel Salatin, who flatly refuted Smith’s suggestions. Many of our activities here at Near River are modelled on Joel’s at his Polyface Farm.
Then a few days later, a piece by Jenna Woginrich appeared in the Huffington Post. Titled ‘Let Your Children Grow Up To Be Farmers’ it addressed Smith’s original article and even agreed with many of his proposed actions. It then went on, and here is where I got hooked. Jenna articulated perfectly all that it is about farming that is important – what has us choose to give up some things in exchange for this way of life.
There are many points that could be lifted from her article, and I invite you to take that time to head over and read it now – it really is that good.
A couple that hit home – Farming “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.”
And this “the best reason to let your 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.”
Farming has you disconnect from the urban ‘as fast as possible, just in time, need it now’ mind set, and for any city born and bred person that can take some doing. Realising that your actions today will impact the crop you are planting in this bed not only next season or even next year, but in two years time requires a mind shift. That this fruit tree that you plant today may take seven years before it’s first crop, and won’t reach peak cropping until year fifteen. Planning animal succession is something else that has you grasp how long your horizon is – we need to start planning now to replace our sows as at Near River we allow our gilts 16 months from conception before they commence reproducing.
Then I could talk about the seasons, how no two are the same from year to year, how each one teaches you something new, how the more time you spend observing the more obvious the subtlety becomes. And of course this means that no two crops are the same, ever. With so many variables, it’s no wonder.
Then there is the food – real, honest food that tastes. Before we left the city, we really had no idea about this, how vast the difference is between what we allow the supermarkets to pass off as food and what real food is. And this is what people notice – “your eggs are the best”,”I haven’t had a pork chop like for ages, if ever”, “your salad mix lasts in the fridge for over a week”. We’ve given away so much in the name of convenience. Finally it appears to be turning as we realise as a society the impact that this has had on our health and the health of our environment.
In all, what I love about farming is the dance, the never ending dance. Mostly with Mother Nature, but also with our customers and their families, with our plants and animals, with each other and our team and the Wwoofers who we meet, educate and learn from, and the light in a every child’s eye as they pick a real tomato and taste it for the first time.
I’ll leave the final word to Jenna. Even though it’s aimed at America, I’m damn sure it applies to Australia too. “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.”
This is the fourth post in a series about our journey to Near River, how our ethical pasture raised traditional field grown small holding enterprise has come to look like it does, and what we’ve learnt along the way.
Here are the previous posts, and yes, I’m an 80s music tragic.