Since I announced I was leaving my law practice I can’t count the times people have told me how much they envy me and how great they imagine farm life must be.
Farm life is great, but not in the way most of them imagine. A mere generation ago very few people had to imagine what farm life must be like. We were a nation of farmers and most of us who weren’t farming for a living grew up on a farm or had grandparents who were farmers. We were far less likely to romanticize farming then than we are now.
Sadly there are thousands of folks, particularly idealistic young people, who have moved onto farms with zero appreciation of the work and commitment that being a farmer requires. Most of them are destined to fail and return to their suburbs, jaded and unhappy.
I grew up on this farm and have been tending it in my “spare time” for many years. I learned my work ethic as a child on a farm, so I know what taking on the responsibilities of a farm means. That is not to say I won’t fail here. I might. But it won’t be because I didn’t realize how much work was involved.
In my opinion, everyone should try to tend a garden. But no one should attempt to tend a farm unless they love the land. I don’t mean they must love nature or love hiking. I mean they must LOVE the land they farm as they might love a child. It is something that is nearly impossible to describe to those who don’t feel it, but farming is not a job or even a hobby. It is a lifestyle, but it goes far beyond that. For anyone who’s wondering about it, read some Wendell Berry fiction. If you feel what his characters feel, in ways that can’t be expressed with words, then maybe you have it. I’m sure there are plenty of other ways to know as well. If the feeling is there, I’m sure you’ll know it.
Most importantly, we must not think of land and farms as means to ends. They are not resources to be exploited. A farm is not a vehicle by which one may earn a living without punching a clock. A farm is not “real estate.”
Certainly anyone who really wants to try the farm life must have a very strong work ethic. Often farm work begins before dawn and extends until past sundown. In the summer, it nearly always does. It is very hard work for very little pay. It is sweating in the brutal heat of the day and shivering in the freezing cold of the winter. It is not an idyllic alternative to a cubicle. Of course for those who really feel and love it, the conditions don’t matter and hard work for low pay is just not an issue. But for those who don’t, they will be disappointed.
Farms must be tended. They must be cared for. In my opinion, no one should take it on unless tending the land is the one thing they would rather do than anything else.
I admit that it annoys me when folks don’t fully appreciate what it means to take on the responsibility of partnering with the earth. Some seem to think the land exists only for their benefit–to make them happy. In truth we exist for the land’s benefit as well.
When I get tired or when I start to worry that what we’re doing here might be pointless, I remind myself that working on my farm is a great privilege. It is kingdom work.