Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Farming Isn't That Easy...

Here is an article I found on the New Farm Website titled, "Too Tough a Row to Hoe". It was written by an intern working at the Rodale Institute and I think is rather eye opening. I don't really have time to tackle it all today (farming and working really is time consuming), but I wanted to throw out the article for you to read if you are interested and then compose some of my thoughts for tomorrow. I really do think though that this article and what it has made me think about is really the core of "The Beginning Farmer" blog. So, here are a few quotes from the article that really stuck out for me. Check them out, check out the article, and let me know what you think...
  • "So I can’t really fathom the struggle I would go through if you ordered me to start an organic farm with five acres, $10,000, internet access and a fellow English major for a partner. I can see that farming is a huge undertaking, and I simply don’t possess the skills or knowledge to pull it off."
  • "I would have to make a transition from student life in the academic world to that of a farmer facing complex decisions that determined income."
  • "I would need to learn everything from scratch, from when to plant crops to figuring out a crop rotation to what equipment I would need to buy."
  • "Studying is all very well but it can only take you so far. The rest you have to figure out for yourself, on your land, asking new questions when new thing come up. My guess is that even if I worked hard and most things went as well as could be expected, it would be several years of failures before my small organic farm saw any success."

3 comments:

Rich said...

Regardless of the type of farm a person decides to start (CSA vegetables, grain farming, livestock, etc.), they will never know everything they need to know before they begin. But there shouldn't be a need to learn everything from scratch.

I have found that it is possible to learn alot by asking other people engaged in a similar type of farming how they do things. People are usually willing to explain their methods (some are more willing than others and some advice is worth about as much as it costs).

I spent years just driving around my area observing how people operated; how and when they planted, when they harvested, how they managed their cattle grazing, how they fed their cattle in winter, what types of livestock they kept, etc. You will be surprised what you can learn just by keeping track of what the neighbors are doing.

After a little observation and questioning, you can start to develop a feeling about the way you would do things on your farm. Of course, once you actually start farming you will likely (or should) continue to learn and improve your methods.

On the subject of failing for years despite your best efforts, regardless of the results of trying to grow a new crop or raising a new type of livestock, it should never be considered a failure, it should always be looked at as a learning experience. Of course, I think that one of the best parts about farming is the experimentation aspect, doing new things or improving old methods, and the only way to know when or how something needs to be improved is when it goes wrong. With that viewpoint, “failing” becomes just one step in the learning process, not a determining factor in whether or not a farm is successful.

Dave_Flora said...

Rich is absolutely right. I'd like to point out that what you consider "success" should be defined and put in perspective. If you've never grown crops before, maybe your first "success" should be to grow enough food to help feed yourself. Once you've learned from that, you can think about expanding, but always start small...little "successes" are better than large "failures"!
-Dave

Yeoman said...

I've only glanced at the article, and I think the author is to be commended for acknowledging that farming is hard work.

However, what I'd also note, is that most work that's worth doing, and a whole lot of work that isn't worth doing, is hard work. Not to pick on English majors, but one thing that we've failed to do in this Society, at least since the early 60s, is to teach children that a lot of work is really hard. I don't want to wreck their youths, but I have noticed that a lot of college grads, and grad school grads, are shocked to learn that their chosen fields involve a whole lot of hard work.

I've worked as a roughneck, soldier, stockman and lawyer, and any other number of odd jobs. The job I think is the least hard of those is my job as a stockman. The hardest job I've ever done, by a far, far, degree, is that of being a lawyer. Quite a few kids of ranchers who become lawyers (a common thing in the West) are shocked by how hard legal work is compared to being a stockman.

Part of that is that it really is hard, contrary to the popular conception (and the pay is much, much lower, out in the West, than the popular conception). But part of that is that it's massively dissatisfying to almost everyone, and stressful beyond belief. In contrast, I suppose working stock is really a lot harder than it seems, but it's so satisfying at the same time (and also pays much, much less than commonly believed).

I mention all that as a lot of modern work is really "hard" because it's massively dissatisfying, in part because the working conditions are so unnatural. The young author here found the work hard as it's "work" in a F=M(a) sense. I'd be very curious what her opinion is in a few years, after that English degree proved to be unmarketable, and was followed by a law degree, accounting degree, or a teaching certificate.

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