03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Farmers are Responsible for Life

Farming is hard work, yet the farmers I meet are some of the most satisfied people I know. Odd, because in my experience, running a small business can be full of stress and often not a whole lot of fun.

What is different for farmers? Perhaps it's just that being responsible for life pays tremendous dividends.

Farmers care for their animals and their crops. They'll scratch a calf's head, break the ice on the water trough in the dead of winter, raise crops from seed to harvest. Wendell Barry in Bringing It to the Table quotes Terry Cummins, the author of Feed My Sheep, on what its feels like to provide husbandry.


The feeling inside sort of just happens, and you can't say that this did it or that did it. It's the many little things. It doesn't seem that taking a sweat-soaked harness off tired, hot horses would be something that would make you notice. Opening a barn door for sheep standing in a cold rain, or throwing a few grains of corn to the chickens are small things, but these small things begin to add up in you, and you begin to understand that you're important.

You may not be real important like the people you read about in the newspaper, but you begin to feel that you're important to all the life around you. Nobody else knows or cares too much about what you do, but if you get a good feeling inside about what you do, then it doesn't matter if nobody else knows.

I do think about myself a lot when I'm along way back on the place bringing in the cows or sitting on the mowing machine all day. But when I start thinking about how our animals and crops and fields and woods and gardens sort of all fit together, then I get that good feeling inside and don't worry much about what will happen to me.

But when you start to think of animals as protein and nature as a force that can be controlled, then something switches off in your brain, and you can make decisions that are good for business but not so good for animals and people. As we look to a new decade, it will be good to think about how we can reengage with our food in positive and sustainable ways.

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