I was recently asked what I like most about my job. My answer was that every day is different, and the wide variety of people with whom I get to work.
I used the example that in the previous week, I had consultations with a dairy farmer, a family working to transition to the next generation, a shepherd whose day job is at NIH and an aspiring blueberry grower who is an administrator at a local college.
While these folks might seem very different, they are also greatly similar. If you would ask each of them to write their own mission statement, they would contain many commonalities. They all want to produce a wholesome, quality product that reflects positively on them and provides an income, or at least covers costs, in the case of the part-timers.
In addition, they all understand the value of working with the land. This is a value that goes beyond any monetary return. What they all search for, and some have found, is the living room or front porch.
What I mean is today, industrial agriculture, global economies, rat-racing, competition, ignorance and distrust of neighbors and the pursuit of personal wealth and independence have nearly taken an insurmountable toll on the deeply intimate relationships once developed from sitting and conversing with beloved family and friends. We all have a deep longing for connecting with others. Regardless of what the self-help gurus say, many of us are looking for “Mayberry.” Not in a nostalgic sense, but in an interdependent sense.
This is what an agrarian community gives to its nonfarm neighbors. However, agriculture has to be careful, as well. We are also becoming too independent.
I have told the story before of the 1940s magazine ad for Allis-Chamblers tractors in which the farm family is sitting on their porch looking out over their farm with pride, shiny new tractor in the foreground. They thought their new tractor would replace their horses. What we have discovered is the tractor also replaced their neighbor.
My father tells stories of going from farm to farm threshing. I am sure he doesn’t miss the hard, dirty work, but he certainly speaks fondly of the camaraderie and the excellent noon meals. He also talks of walking the cow to the neighbor’s bull or vice versa. Do you understand the relationships these farm families nurtured and shared?
I recently read an article titled “Sabbath Farming” and no matter if you are Christian, Jewish, Muslim or atheist, we all seek a day of rest. The classic by Rascal Flats puts it best: “Sunday was the day of rest, now it’s one more day for progress, and we can’t slow down, ’cause more is best, it’s all an endless process.”
Rest is not simply inactivity. It is a disposition. It is hard to believe but true that the essentials of life — sunlight, photosynthesis, bees, rain, earthworms, friendship, community — while extremely valuable, are basically free.
So what are you to take from this? Slow down. Plant a garden, whether it is an acre or a planter box on your deck. When you start attempting to understand nature, you will also appreciate it.
However, when you start eating your own bounty, be warned — it can be dangerous. You might never go back to the produce aisle at the local grocer unless it is locally grown.
Jeff Semler is an Extension educator, specializing in agriculture and natural resources, for the University of Maryland Extension. He is based in Washington County. He can be reached at 301-791-1404, ext. 25, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.