Tonight, just a few minutes ago to be exact, I was car-pooling home from a choir practice with some other gentlemen and we were listening to our driver, a farmer, talk about his life as a farmer. It was interesting to hear him speak … he’s pretty old (not sure how old, but his wife just celebrated her 90th birthday a couple months ago), and he’s remained active in various community activities and with his farm. last summer he even rescued some girls at a girls camp by carrying their heavy backpacks on a 5-mile dirt mountain trail.
He was talking about how he inherited his farm from his father in the early 1930’s, and how it was later selected by the government to be split in half so a local “beltline” (sort of like a highway) could be built. They paid him a small amount of money for the property, and he built gates on either side of the road so he could continue to farm both sides. Though it would be an inconvenience, he figured he could just work one side and then drive across and work the other side.
The very first day he tried it, however, someone turned him in, and he got chewed out by someone from the county. They told him he could never drive his equipment across that road again, or he would risk huge fines. Since then, he is now forced to drive 3 1/2 miles out of the way, each way, to bypass the road and get to his field. He said an interesting thing:
“That’s the funny thing about the government. They can pass a billion dollar stimulus package and not blink an eye, but when it comes to a farmer’s land, they want to pay as little as they can get away with.”
During the conversation, the other riders were swapping stories about their own experiences working on farms as teenagers. There were stories about moving pipe and bucking hay & onions, and it reminded me of my own experiences on farms. I’ve kept after horses, cleaning their stalls. I’ve milked cows, both by hand and by “milker”. I’ve trudged through the mud at 5 in the morning until 9 at night doing “corn topping”. I’ve spread manure, picked rocks, installed fencing, tore down fences, tore down sheds, white-washed buildings and fences, cleared stumps, raised chickens, raised calves, caught goats, chopped the head off of a turkey, and done a ton of gardening. I’ve also worked peach, pear, and apple orchards and gathered eggs from a hen house. I’ve been chased by bulls, mad roosters and bitten by everything from a crayfish to an ostrich. I’ve swam in irrigation canals and dealt with leeches, mosquitoes and other vermin.
It was fun thinking of those times, and it was strange to me that I’d forgotten many of those experiences. I realized as I was reflecting that my children will probably never experience most of those things. While at the time I didn’t enjoy most of the work I did (the exceptions being tearing down sheds and beheading the turkey), those grimy, sweaty, and often muddy and cold tasks made me who I am. They made a lot of my peers who they are.
With the rise of corporate farming, the boom in selling farmland to make subdivisions and shopping centers, and child labor laws as unforgiving as they are now, the only way any of my children will ever experience anything similar is if they get a job as a hand at a corporate dairy or someone happens to make a “farm” theme park.
Where will the character-building, hands-on nature experiences come from when they are of age?