"Don't Let Your Children Grow Up to Be Farmers." That was the title of an op-ed piece in the New York 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 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 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 2 p.m. 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 rhythms 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 New York 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.
Jenna Blogs Daily at Cold Antler Farm.