Monday, May 14, 2012

Ignorance is Bliss

Folks, I'm not usually confrontational.  I much prefer to gently educate.  Still, I have a quick enough temper that when something gets under my skin, it blows up pretty fast.

I had someone tell me today that I have no idea what farming really is. 

Let's start with the back story.  Yep, I was raised in town.  My parents didn't farm, but my grandparents sure did.  I drove a combine in my grandma's wheat field on my 8th birthday.  My grandpa on the other side farmed with a team of Percherons.  We came over from Russia with the Mennonite diaspora--some of my ancestors brought over Turkey Red Wheat.  I can vividly remember sitting at Grandma's waiting for the wheat prices to come over the radio news, and projecting her potential yield based on counting kernels.  I used to play in the wheat trucks the neighbors parked across the street waiting to take them to the grain elevator.  My great uncle John had a doctorate in breeding wheat for the greatest yield (and that was the days before GMO.  This was just BREEDING).

The spark today started with someone posting about fair value versus going price (in regards to hay).  We had a terrible year last year, and hay prices skyrocketed.  Some this year are already charging last years' prices and thinking about raising them . . .even though we've had a mild winter and, in most places, a pretty wet spring so far.  I know that, looking out over my pasture, haying this year will yield more.  Thank goodness.

The conversation began to spiral out of control when I suggested that $4/gallon gas isn't necessarily a fair price, but it's the going rate.  How dare I complain about my "drop in the bucket" when they had so much more land to farm than I do?  Then the insinuations--just because I have a few acres and raise a few chickens, I'm not REALLY a farmer.  Since I'm not depending on farmland for 100% of my income, I'm not REALLY a farmer (even though my grandma worked in a bank for her entire marriage while my grandpa raised wheat). 

Through the entire thing, I was forced to examine what being a farmer means to me.  Here's my take.  If you don't like it, and you don't think I'm a farmer, fine.  Those of you worth knowing will understand what I'm talking about.

--farming isn't about the amount of land you have, it's about how well you take care of it and how much you GIVE back to it.

--farming isn't about how much you spend on gas or herbicide or pesticide, antibiotics or hormones, it's about how much you can avoid spending on them.

--farming is being in tune with your land without just putting it on autopilot.  It's about the seasons, soil needs, animal needs (nope, not corn in a feedlot trough), and building on the strengths of your land while solving the problem spots.

--farming isn't about having the newest, biggest machinery, the newest, biggest chicken barn (Yuck), or anything newest or biggest.  It's about doing the best you can with what you have and still doing the best for your land.  Our old Allis tractor needs some cajoling now and then, but she does just fine by us.

--farming IS ALL ABOUT NEIGHBORS.  Lord knows, I've relied on mine often enough, and I hope they know they can rely on me.  Little things are the start--like trading eggs or borrowing a trailer.  The wonderful folks that helped catch my horses a while ago got a fresh loaf of bread.  Talking with the people who come to the farmers' market--they're my neighbors too.  Even the guy with the field across the road (who we see just a few times a year) is nice enough to do his field work when the wind isn't blowing towards our house.  Even if I HAD ever thought about doing it (which I never will), raising GMO crops wouldn't be neighborly.  Should Big Ag decide to look around, my neighbors could get sued if my artificial crops infested theirs.  I don't do things that way.

See, for me, farming (as with so many other issues) comes down to respect.  I respect myself.  I respect my land.  I respect my critters--yeah, even the chickens I slaughter.  Chickens and soil both give of themselves so that we can eat.  I love my neighbors--all of them.  We're all here for each other.  Isn't it amazing that people who live so far apart can be more tightly knit than a bunch of people in the city?  I love it.  I can walk outside in the morning and appreciate the glory of the day.  I can take personal satisfaction (or sometimes complete despair when I find that worms have eaten all of my lettuce) in the fact that I'm HERE.  I LOVE this place.  Even when the chores seem to take forever, even when . . .you get the idea.

I'm a farmer now.  Love me or leave me the heck alone.  I've got work to do.

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