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*

Crowded Hikes: The Death of Solitude in the Outdoors. And Are They Beyond Leave No Trace?

It’s finally sunny in Portland again and that means everyone wants to hike in our nearby parks and forests.

Let me emphasize, everyone.

It’s like the city evacuates and piles into Willamette National Forest. My first few hikes of the season had me thinking about Leave No Trace, as I witnessed people who don’t know what’s up.

With the outdoors so accessible from Portland, combined with the drastic increase over the past decade of recreation in national parks and forests, thousands of people traipse into the woods seemingly without a clue about Leave No Trace.

Take the Columbia River Gorge, for example, splitting Oregon and Washington State. The Gorge hikes are abundant with water falls, streams, wildflower meadows, and rocky viewpoints that make them a top destination on TripAdvisor lists. Most within in hour of Portland off interstate 84, the trails face a beating from foot traffic alone, never-mind trash, dog poop, and mistreatment of campsites and water sources.

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Horsetail Falls in Columbia River Gorge

 

The crowds cause Taylor and me to seek less traveled hikes, often hiking deeper, sometimes on poorly marked or unkempt trails. I like to feel secluded in my hikes; the best ones are when in the middle I get that rush of nerves like, whoa, we are way out here. I look at my phone, no service. That’s when I know. So far from civilization, a difficult achievement in the Gorge where you almost always hear the hum of the highway.

The point of Leave No Trace is not only to protect our environment, but to preserve a sense of solitude, of wilderness, that no other human has been there before. This is why people crave nature, because its solitude brings a quietness to the mind that we rarely get in day to day life. Wilderness brings excitement and adventure, which we all need more of. With cities getting tighter and louder, and technology at the center of our world, we need that space even more. We need to not look at a screen for one day. And how backwards is it that because we need it more, people seek it more, and therefore it’s being destroyed. Either that, or we have to develop the area to accommodate the crowds, thus taking away that essential wildness.

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Escaping the crowds via Rock of Ages Loop

I wonder, then, if Leave No Trace is even applicable to areas as busy as the Columbia River Gorge. Some of the most popular destinations – Horsetail Falls, for example – is literally a place where you park and take pictures of a waterfall. In photos it appears like you are in the middle of nowhere, but turn around and there’s a full parking lot. Is this really what we’re after when we speak of solitude? Or for that matter, nature?

The thing is, for many it is. For those who rarely hike, this is the most outdoorsy they’ll ever get, and it’s plenty. I think in a way it comforts them, knowing others have been there before. They know it’s safe. I don’t think they care that the summits have apple cores and granola bar wrappers. I’ve actually had friends ask me, who cares? As in, who cares about apple cores? They’ll decompose eventually. And before I go into the problem of habituated animals or the fact that it’s not so much an environmental reason as an aesthetic one, (We’re trying to enjoy nature here, not stare at your waste) arguing doesn’t seem to have a point when they genuinely don’t mind. It begins to feel like my problem, which it shouldn’t.

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A rare viewpoint of the Gorge during Rock of Ages loop

 If I don’t mind going the extra mile to ditch crowds, and the average Joe hiker doesn’t mind the busy trails and apple cores, what’s the problem?

The problem for me is that as the accessible trails become too crowded, more average Joe hikers will attempt to go deeper into the woods without a clue about Leave No Trace. Enjoyment for the experienced will be increasingly harder to find.

We’ll need trash cans, public toilets, and other things that strip away the illusion of solitude and wilderness. This is already common, and it’s a healthy attempt to minimize impact – obviously we don’t want trash and poop on the ground. But I worry entire forests will turn into rustic civilizations.

True untouched nature will disappear because people want the refreshment of the outdoors without strain or discomfort. They want easy roads and hikes, water fountains, bathrooms, and cafes. That’s why our forests are full of people in flip flops taking pictures with their iPhones to post to Instagram, only to complain about the poor connection. I swear, if there comes a day when our national forests have WiFi, I’m out.

My Gut Says Logic is Overrated

I was recently given the opportunity to work on a farm for the summer, and I was stoked. I couldn’t wait to work outside in the beautiful Oregon sunshine, get my hands back in the earth. I was tired of working as a waitress, hating that I was spending so much time doing a job I didn’t like for the money. Sure, the farming job wouldn’t pay much, but at least I’d be doing something I was passionate about.

Later, I found myself on my laptop, staring at my student debt. Suddenly the idea of working on a farm for little pay seemed absurd. What I should do is pick up more hours at the restaurant or get a second job. I didn’t have time for fun, not yet. I had school debt, car payments, rent to pay. Focusing on making money seemed the more logical thing to do. Continue reading

Post Election: Finding Clarity in Books

I’m reading Freedom by Jonathon Franzen, and from the perspective of forty- year-old Patty, he wrote:

“There’s a hazardous sadness to the first sounds of someone else’s work in the morning, it’s as if stillness experiences pain in being broken. The first minute of the workday reminds you of all the other minutes that a day consists of, and it’s never a good thing to think of minutes as individuals. Only after other minutes have joined the naked, lonely first minute, does the day become more safely integrated in its dayness.”

Reading can be that way. The first page feels daunting as you’re afraid you’ll lose focus and stop. But once other pages have joined the first page, you feel more comfortable in the rhythm of reading. Pages cease to be individuals and the story forms in your mind in a continues string. It feels complete and relaxing as it guides you through the author’s world. That’s a satisfaction I can only get from reading books. Social media, the other place where I “read,” makes me feel lost in a thick forest, blinded by sticks poking me in the eye and scratching my skin. Continue reading

From Stumbling to Stepping: Making Our Way in Portland

Before we knew our way around Portland, before the rain stuttered and summer passed and the rain returned in tsunamic downpours; before we had jobs and a mattress and a toilet of our own, Taylor and I sat on a bench in the Vancouver, Washington public library, a phone pressed to my ear as a reluctant voice told me we didn’t get the jobs we’d driven across the country for.

Three thousand miles from home in the middle of January, neither of us knew what to do. We didn’t want to drive back and we didn’t know where to go. We’d been living in a car. I was tired of driving and tired of fighting my tiredness. At that moment I wanted nothing more than to forget the whole trip happened, curl up in my warm, childhood bed and abandon adulthood.
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