Early this summer we were invited to Jean & Pierre’s house for
breakfast. We bought our house from Jean 13 years ago. She now has a
house closer to town, in an area of mostly farms. The farmland around
here is rolling hills, used mostly for hay for cattle. As we drove to
Jean’s we noticed farmers busy plowing fields for cash crops like corn
or grains. The roads were a hive of activity as farmers hurried to get
fields plowed and planted. After a cold and wet spring there was
finally some sunshine and so the farmers knew they needed to hustle.
The forecast was for another week of rain so there seemed to be a bit
of a frenzy to get crops in the ground before the fields got too muddy
I have a great deal of respect for farmers. Every year it’s a
crapshoot to earn a living. Whether it’s the price of beef, the
weather, fuel costs, too much rain, drought, equipment breakdowns…
really, who in their right mind would want to earn a living farming?
And yet every year, for eons, humans have gone to the fields to
plant food. And I believe either I am a reincarnated farmer, or that
the basic human instinct to plant food is embedded deep in my DNA. We
probably all share the instinct to grow food but most of us suppress it
at the mall, or by planting flowers. As I drove around those country
roads that morning and saw all that activity I felt kind of left out. I
own 150 acres, but it’s mostly forests. Sure I grow some food, enough
to sell some in town each week, but still, I’m growing a few acres, as
opposed to hundreds of acres like full time farmers. And I sell books
as a back up plan in case things don’t pan out. In poker terms, farmers
are “all in.” Yes there is crop insurance and government support
programs, but no businessman or farmer wants to rely on them. They want
to earn their living from the fruits of their labor. From their sweat
Nope, farmers are THE most important people in our society (after
mothers). It’s not doctors, or lawyers, or hedge fund managers, the
people society rewards with the highest financial compensation. It’s
the people who put food on our table. When I was a teenager I worked
for my uncle who had a number of equipment magazines, and I spent a lot
of time at farm shows and farming events. I was raised in suburbia and
wouldn’t have known a PTO (Power Take Off, used to drive farm
implements being pulled by a tractor) from a combine, but somehow I was
drawn to farmers. There was no pretension. There was nothing phony. It
seemed they didn’t have time for the crap. Just give me the facts and
I’ll figure it out.
There was also this fierce independence. While they will always pull
together to help each other out, when you have a narrow window to get
crops planted or hay harvested, and all your neighbors are in exactly
the same boat, you can’t rely on anyone else. It’s up to you and your
ingenuity to get things done. Farmers always have toolboxes on their
tractors so that they can fix stuff. When you’re bringing in square
bales and something breaks, it’s usually not long before something is
fabricated to fix the situation. And when I’m when I’m in a store that
sells parts and equipment, farmers are there buying the bits and pieces
they need to fix stuff. They’re not bringing things in to get fixed.
They’ve torn that piece of machinery down back in the shop and now they
just need the “hex nut” “cotter pin,” “fill in the blank,” to fix it.
Well it probably wouldn’t be a cotter pin because they would have
broken enough of those over the years that they’d have a full selection
of them back at the shop.
I learned this lesson the hard way when my neighbor Ken was up the
phone pole installing a solar panel on my remote phone system shortly
after we moved off the grid. Ken yelled down asking for a bolt. I got
ready to throw it up to him. He asked how many I had. I said, “You only
need the one.” Ken’s response was, “So let me get this straight? I’m
35 feet up a telephone pole, trying to attach all this equipment, and
you have to throw up a bolt, 35 feet, which I have to catch in one
hand, and if I drop it, it will fall into the rocks and underbrush and
never be seen again? And you only have the one? Is this what you’re
telling me?” From that day forward, if I was working on a project that
involved screws or fasteners and Ken was involved, even if we were
working in a garage with our feet firmly planted on the ground, I always
purchased a number of the items I needed. For the marginal cost of the
extras, it was insurance that the job got done that day.
And farmers have learned that if the hay baler broke once it might
break again, so they’ll buy two of those bolts and leave one in the
toolbox on the tractor.
While I don’t have a narrow window to get my corn planted before wet
weather, I do have deadlines for books and other work that I do.
Somehow they don’t seem as important. Oh they do to the customer or
printer I’m providing the work for, but somehow a field of corn isn’t
at stake. If it doesn’t get done, people will still have enough food to
eat. That’s because of the farmer sweating bullets that the rain will
stop, or start.
Thank you farmers. Thank you for growing the food that nourishes my
body. As I like to write when I sign one of my gardening books, “May
your days be sunny and your nights be rainy!”