I would have laughed because my first job was on a farm. My friend and I enjoyed such tasks as scrubbing the flaking paint off of the anhydrous ammonia tanks. We pulled out an old barbed wire fence, posts and all, by hand. One blazing summer we painted the roofs on a few pole barns.
Looking back, we did the jobs the real farmers didn’t want to do. It took me a few years to expand my view of farming and to appreciate the jobs that farmers do want to do.
In my high school world, a farmer planted a dozen 1,000-acre fields with corn. I didn’t give farming any more thought until my last college class, a spring term course on the philosophy of agriculture.
Don’t stop reading here, because I’m not a farmer because of any class I took or any book I read. Books and class only developed my view of agriculture; it took work to seal my fate.
I took jobs that came with small doses of farm work. I got to harvest without planting or weeding. I got to feed animals without worrying about castrating or slaughtering. It was fun to work with tasty vegetables and to spend time with barnyard animals.
Then I noticed a dying chicken. She was suffering, and there were no real farmers around to help her. It fell to me to kill her, and in return she helped me choose a career in farming.
Don’t stop reading here, because I’m not a farmer because I like killing chickens. Killing that chicken was simply my first taste of fully participating in the raising of food. I became interested in all the tasks involved in farming, in the full life cycle and not just reaping the harvest.
Suddenly I was not just a volunteer or a camp counselor saddled with barn chores, I was working on farms. And I liked riding the waterwheel for 12 hours only to be sore and smell like fish emulsion. I liked to be in charge of holding the lambs while Pete docked their tails. It’s not that bad to be 200 feet into scuffling a 500-foot bed, or to be halfway through filling up the haymow.
To be clear, I’m not crazy or a workaholic. But I have learned that I like meaningful work. I like good food. And I do think it tastes better when you’ve tired yourself out ensuring that it stays healthy and grows well before it arrives on your plate. I like the feeling of sharing a delicious meal with friends or family and knowing what it took to set that table. It is rewarding to eat a good meal and remember a good cow or pig. How can you not love literally bringing home the bacon?
But before you stop reading, I should tell you why I kept taking jobs on farms. I’m a farmer because: I like farmers. Along my path an amazing network of generous, knowledgeable farmers has supported me. My co-workers were hilarious and inventive. My bosses challenged and encouraged me. My customers have genuinely thanked me. I owe my successes and my future to the fact that I have surrounded myself with good people in farming.
So maybe if down the road our farm does well enough that I can underpay a high schooler, that youngster wouldn’t laugh at the thought of choosing a career in farming.