Undoing the Farmer Fantasy

If you’ve ever gone to a farmer’s market, you probably felt really good about yourself.

But there’s so much more to farming than you might expect when you’re searching for the best, most perfect carrots. Good farming requires years of knowledge, hard work, serious dedication and grit. I know because I worked on a farm for a few months, until I stopped.

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At the market, people said to my boss, “So, you’re a farmer. Living the life, right?” or, “What a life you got, huh? Must be nice.”

Little did they know, farming is hardly nice at all. My boss was the most stressed out, frustrated, angry person I’ve ever known. Everything down to the centimeter mattered and had to be done just right. We weren’t a bunch of barefoot hippies in lush fields, we wore boots and worked with shoddy tools, because the farm made decent money but not enough to buy new tools all the time. No one I worked with was rich, quite the opposite. While some days were sunny and nice, that didn’t matter much when my back constantly ached.

Farming is hard work and mathematical. It’s constantly anticipating things that could go wrong and reacting accordingly. The “lone” in “lone farmer” should not suggest pleasant solitude, rather, fighting alone against a world of things trying to destroy your livelihood. Wind, weather, drought, disease, bugs, critters, flooding, to name a few.

There is no consistency. What works one year might not the next. And yet, farming is tedious. Weeding is a never ending task, and it’s terrible. So before you envy your local farmer for “living the life” know that he or she has an extremely stressful and exhausting job witnessed by few, only to attend farmers markets where snooty customers give them not nearly enough credit.

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Whether it’s from living in a city where there’s always a line at the urban garden store, or the sheer number of food documentaries on Netflix, I think there’s an increasing desire in people to support local farms or even grow their own food. It’s wholesome and gratifying, or supposed to be. I think that when politics are so stress-inducing as they are now, people want to feel grounded. I chose to work on a farm to find purpose in a world that feels increasingly out of my control. Turns out crops are very hard to control. I wanted to work outside and live that fantasy farmer life, so to speak. I wanted to escape from the city and learn a valuable skill in the process. Eventually I had to tell myself, Stop. Stop making this into something it isn’t. Admit that farming is not your thing. Sure I’ll go to farmers markets, but I’ll never be a farmer. 

I don’t have what it takes. I’m currently coping with that.

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On one hand I think everyone should work on a farm to see with their own eyes and feel with their own backs the work that goes into growing food. On the other hand I think it should be left to the farmers. And people who have this fantasy idea of a farmer’s life need to realize it doesn’t exist. Then again, I wouldn’t have known any of this unless I worked on a farm. It’s a constant learning process, isn’t it?

I encourage others to approach their local farmers with awareness and realistic expectations. You might not find the perfect carrot, because it’s really hard to grow anything perfect. Know that your farmer works really hard to keep up with the constantly changing environment and consumer world.

If your passion is small organic farming, please do it. We need more. But avoid romanticizing the farmer life if you haven’t experienced it first hand. Don’t say you want to be a farmer because you saw a documentary once. Don’t farm to be alternative, a rebel, a hippie, or to boost your ego like you’re such a charitable person. Don’t farm to “get outside” or “live the simple life” or “become one with the earth and appreciate the beauty of every growing leaf.” Some of these are in quotes because I said them myself once. *Shaking my head*

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