What Do Farmers Do When They’re Not Out in the Field?
Because there's more to farming than planting and harvesting.
Another hurricane came through North Carolina last week. We were stuck inside for hours while the rain came down and the winds blew. A good chunk of that time was spent worrying about our crops, but we did manage to get a lot of inside work done. The silver lining to bad weather is that it's a much-needed chance to focus on something other than field work.
What do we do when we're not out in the field? Oh, just all of the many different tasks that are necessary to keep a small farm humming: marketing, bookkeeping, customer service, writing newsletters, researching how to deal with pests, crop planning, financial analysis, irrigation, plumbing, carpentry, tinkering with broken tools, reviewing soil tests, delivering produce, diagnosing diseases, and ordering supplies, along with dozens of other tasks I can't remember at the moment. Most small-business owners have to wear many hats, but sometimes it feels like farmers wear the most.
I can't tell you how many times well-meaning people have asked us, "Is farming really all you're going to do?" As if it would be crazy for ambitious, college-educated young people to choose farming as a profession. I'm sure part of this question comes out of a genuine concern for us: farming is physically demanding work that is notoriously underpaid. But there's also an unspoken judgement there: you're too smart to farm.
In the last 50 years or so, our culture has turned its back on farming. Farmers encourage their children to choose a different path in life. No sane guidance counselor or college adviser tells his or her brightest students to become farmers. For hundreds of years, people considered farming to be sacred work; an essential part of living. Now, we've lost our basic respect for working the land.
The truth is that farming is an incredible challenge that requires all kinds of intelligence and skill. For Gordon and me, farming is far tougher and more intellectually stimulating than any of the other jobs we've had. That's part of why farming brings us so much joy and is so deeply satisfying. Our mentor Eliot Coleman says, "As a rock climber, you love the impossible, and we were told organic farming was impossible. It has been a wonderful long adventure, because the mountain doesn't have a top."
Growing food is, on its own, very complex, and then there's the critical task of running a successful business. If a farmer can manage to do both, then in my humble opinion, she or he deserves all the respect in the world. I deeply hope that in my lifetime we can turn on end the modern notion of what it means to be a farmer, that everyone will come to agree that farming is a true public service to be honored, and that we can say to our young people: you are smart and strong. You'll make a great farmer.