While attending college at Utah State University in Logan (Go Aggies!), I had the opportunity to spend most of my free time working as a server at a local restaurant. I really enjoyed this job and for a student studying Agricultural Communication and Journalism, it gave a me many occasions to see how people connected to their food. One of these instances has stuck with me over the years and I feel it is important to share.
Logan, though a booming college town, is surrounded by several farming communities. We would get our fair share of farmers and ranchers coming in to enjoy a meal - it was a steakhouse after all. One evening, a farming family came in to have a celebratory birthday dinner for their young son. When it came time for dessert and singing “Happy Birthday”, the boy’s mom brought out his birthday cake. Covered in bright green frosting, dirt piles made from cookie crumbs, plastic fences, and you guessed it, that big green tractor we all know so well, this was the cake of this little boy’s dreams. My heart was full thinking about how amazing it was that this boy loved farming and strived to be one just like his parents. Not a moment later, that feeling was crushed as a co-worker walked past me and commented, “Who would dream of being a farmer? This kid should be aspiring to be so much more than just a farmer.”
In the moment, I struggled to find words to answer what I felt and still feel was an ignorant question. “Just a farmer?” I thought, “How could he say such a thing!” I grew up on a farm and generations of my family were farmers. It was inconceivable to me that anyone could think of them as anything less than amazing, hardworking people.
Realizing quickly that this was an opportunity to educate about agriculture to someone who simply did not understand, I tried to explain that it was a noble aspiration, that this boy could help feed the world, and how this boy would be responsible for growing some of the food that eventually makes it to the grocery store and onto the plates that my co-worker served every day. Nevertheless, I was unable to convince him of the importance of this fact.
As we conversed, this co-worker made a statement that resonates deeply with many in agriculture. His thought was, “So what? We could all start gardens of our own to produce food for ourselves if we wanted to.” “If we wanted to” being the key words to that statement.
I encourage anyone reading this article to stop for one minute and think about what it would be like if you were responsible for growing all your own food. Do you know how to prep the soil? Do you know what types of crops can grow in your climate or soil type? Do you know what to do to prevent bugs and weeds from killing your crop? Do you know how to care for an animal that is injured or fallen ill? Do you know how to watch weather patterns for the best time to plant and harvest? Would you have time to spend hours tending to your garden, while also fulfilling your other dreams and aspirations? Would you have the space or land capacity to grow and raise your own food? Furthermore, would you be able to grow the wide variety of food that you enjoy daily where you live? I would wager that the majority of you said no to most of these questions. That right there should tell you the importance of farmers, agriculture, and the independent food supply of the United States.
Now, there are many other reasons as to why less than two percent of our population produces all the food we eat; namely lack of viable property, large risk factors, unreliability, and the constant want for convenience over hard work, but the one that stands out is the “if we wanted to” factor.
Former Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said it best when he stated, “Every one of us that's not a farmer, is not a farmer because we have farmers. We delegate the responsibility of feeding our families to a relatively small percentage of this country…”
Others can be doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, communicators, artists, musicians, and all other professions that fit their interests because some little boy or girl dreamt of being a farmer. They have found a love for caring for the land, raising animals, and the hard work associated with it. And yet, unfortunately, sometimes these farmers, ranchers, and the kids who dare to aspire to have that profession are looked down on and thought of as uneducated or not capable of doing more.
As mentioned earlier, the knowledge that a farmer or rancher must have goes far beyond knowing how to drive a tractor. Many are college educated, they understand soil types, they know what moisture levels are required, they can tend to sick animals, they practice meteorology daily, they keep up with current technology to make them efficient, they work to conserve water and soil, they have a deep understanding of plant and animal genetics, and they have a knowledge of every aspect of each organism they grow. Not to mention, the knowledge of trade and markets that is required to be successful and the common sense to make wise and sound decisions (which seems to be lacking in today’s society).
Sounds like more that “just a farmer”, doesn’t it?
At this point, it is most likely hard to understand why anyone would choose this profession. Who would choose to work tireless hours, no vacation time, and no days off? Honestly, when I was younger, I used to have similar thoughts. It wasn’t often that we could go hang out with friends. We had to be out in the freezing cold and blazing hot temperatures watering, feeding cows and horses, cleaning stalls and pens, and exercising horses. A lot of days were spent in tears because we had to learn tough lessons from my parents and grandparents. Meals weren’t eaten until all the animals were fed and chores were done, which meant late breakfasts and super late dinners. Blisters were rubbed on my hands and feet that eventually wore into calluses. Homework was always done after chores were complete because homework could be done when it was dark outside, but we were expected to get excellent grades nonetheless. Also, there were always lessons of life and death and they were never easy.
(Here I am showing hogs at the Summit County Fair)
After all of this, I wouldn’t change a thing about my childhood and I hope I am able to provide this same life for my children. I imagine the little boy with the tractor cake has my same sentiment. Here are a few reasons why:
- I got to spend my childhood outside. Not stuck inside, bored, in front of a TV or computer screen. This has countless benefits on its own.
- I learned the value of hard work and that value has benefited me in all aspects of my life.
- I learned how to be responsible, not only for myself, but for other living things that required my help to survive.
- I got a first-hand experience of the food chain and a solid understanding of where my food comes from.
- I learned to be respectful. Respectful of my elders, other people, other’s property, and animals.
- I was never looked down on because I was a girl. I was expected to work as hard as the boys and was told I could do everything they could (I could do even more if we count cooking, cleaning, and other household chores taught by my mom).
- I got experience with critical thinking and problem solving. On a farm, you often have to think on the spot and figure out a problem on your own.
- I learned skills to help me be confident and independent. Learning to handle animals and learning how to do things on my own from a young age played a huge part in this.
- I lived an active, healthy lifestyle. Working hard all day, lifting heavy things and, learning muscle control while riding horses has helped me to have a healthy body. Not to mention my strong bones from all of the milk we drank.
- I felt a sense of purpose. I had a reason for being alive and knew that I had a role in helping with the family farm and caring for another being. This sense of purpose helps prevent depressive thoughts and harmful behavior.
(Myself (age 1) on my pony Crystal)
I could go on and on about the benefits of being a farmer and growing up on a farm. I’m sure many others will attest to the great attributes that come a long with one of the toughest jobs in the world. These attributes and benefits far outweigh the long hours, hard work, and little pay.
So, to answer my former coworker’s question, “Who would dream of being a farmer?”, I say, who wouldn’t want to dream of being a farmer? The life of a farmer, though simple, tough, and sometimes thankless, has provided me a life full of purpose, a connection to nature, and pure happiness. It provides others the opportunity to pursue their dreams and passions. It provides food so accessible, most don’t even realize where it came from. Don’t you think that the world could stand to have few more little kids dream of being a farmer one day?