At the beginning of this month the New York Times ran an Op-Ed entitled “Don’t let your Children Grow Up to Be Farmers“. Written by Bren Smith, a farmer from New Haven, CT, the op ed piece is pessimistic in tone and explicitly lays out some of the obstacles to making a living in agriculture. Smith discusses the negatives including economic disadvantages, the governmental bias toward large farms, market forces against the farmer, and even the young food movement. This is not a new narrative is it? Many books, country music songs, bumper stickers, presidential speeches and T shirts are designed to remind the non agrarian just how grateful they should be for the hard working farmer and his struggle. The early and long hours, the low pay and the physical risks of operating the actual farm are very real but what farmer doesn’t know the job description before he signs up for this lifestyle.
To rebut this article a second article came out quickly afterward in The Huffington Post entitled “Let Your Children Grow Up to Be Farmers” written by Jenna Woginrich. This article was quick to take the opposite view and point out the other dominant farming narrative adopted by the eating public. This narrative is hi lighted in super bowl ads, by Farm Aid, and Chipotle which romanticizes farming to an extreme that is often not a reality on the farm. The romantic farm and farmer story line is the kind typically used to sell you things and is almost always used in a slant to say how healthy a lifestyle we farmers lead and facilitate. Animals are pictured at their best and seen as loving toward their farmer, and plants are always pristine and wholesome. She writes about her relationship with nature and contrast her experience against “corporations” while suggesting that they are somehow at the root of all that is evil in our culture.
On the heels of these two articles almost every Houston area small farmer joined in on the debate to clarify the errors in these articles and suggest why one was better that the other. The articles were very successful in encouraging debate and dialogue which in the end is always a terrific thing. As for this farmer I held off my opinion until I could wrap my head around the commentary. In my gut was this little tension almost instantly to both articles after reading them saying “I don’t agree with that” and “that’s not the whole story” neither of them describe my feelings to what farming and agriculture has come to be in my own family. Instead I thought that the truth has to lay somewhere between romanticism and woe, especially if the world has a shred of normal left in it. Who can live their lives at the edges of these realities and be a functional citizen….Noone, so why are we using them as the argument to prove our points of view. Here is the reality as this farmer sees it; you are not incorrect to see farmers as hardworking and sacrifical because we very much live our lives that way. You would also be correct to assume that we view ourselves as guardians of the natural world and in partnership with nature. The twist is we are these people simultaneously opperating as both corporate and unique, natural and man made, strong and compassionate, independent and communal all at the same time. Farming does not have the market cornered on risky business ventures that require physical labor and long hours. However we do have a unique and admirable quality that we are comfortable in both of these areas. Most of us farmers don’t really care what profession our children choose because we are not bound at the extremes the way these article would suggest. If my children end up analytical and running a business based in finance it would not be foreign to our experience in farming. On the other hand if my children choose to be an artist and teaching the world to see each other and nature through a different lens it would be equally as important and valued by us as parents.
So to insist farming is not worth doing because it doesn’t make money or to rebut that thinking with the american gothic – life is beautiful- barefoot chasing butterflies farmer are both wrong. Believe that farmers are needed, unique and very talented and quite possible the most even keeled person you’ve never meet. Then ask us what we think we should “let” our children be when they grow up. Our answer will be simply this; because of this farm my children have learned to wear the hat of the CEO and carry the pen of the writer therefore they will be successful in what ever they choose. Their perspective is sharp, their process honed and their hearts wide open. My children are already farmers.