I realized this morning that for a blog that’s called ‘grouchyfarmer’, I haven’t talked much about actual farming here. (Well, to be honest, considering how rarely I’ve posted things here over the last year I haven’t talked about much of anything. But that’s a different story.)
I was a farmer, though. I worked on the family farm while growing up, all through high school and even while I was in college. Before we got married, Mrs. Grouchy (egads, I’m sure she would have a few choice words if she heard me call her that…) and I seriously considered doing something like buying into the family farm. But she was starting into a serious career, already had pretty good job prospects, and we moved to follow her career, and it was a choice that we never regretted.
I went back home from time to time to help my father out. Later when jobs were scarce, I worked as a farm hand for a year or so. But I generally haven’t been involved in the industry much since the early 1990s. For a time, briefly, we considered growing vegetables and fruit as a part time occupation when we inherited the farm, but quickly had to abandon that idea when reality set in and we realized that to make it work we would have to devote far more time to it than we could afford to. Basically one of us would have had to quit our day job and work full time at it, something we couldn’t justify economically.
Even when I was a kid farming was already changing. The so-called mega-farms were starting up, milking not just 40 or 50 cows as we were at our peak, but hundreds of cows. One of our neighbors pulled up and moved to Arizona in the early 1960s, to start one of the first mega dairy farms.
Even back in the 1960s farming was a difficult business, and in every way imaginable; economically, physically, emotionally… A lot of people have this romanticized image of farming; the noble famer out tilling the land, his or her own boss, working outside on warm, summer days, planting, cultivating, harvesting, brushing cows, watching sheep, whatever.
Isn’t like that. Never was. Never will be. Those pastoral scenes are largely the creation of Victorian era writers and artists who romanticized farming, created these peaceful, calm, lovely images in words and with oil on canvas.
Whenever I see a scene like this in an art gallery or museum, I would like to take the artist, put a shovel in his hand and let him clean out pens for a day and see if he still thinks farming is romantic. Or being up 29 hours straight because you spent all night nursing a cow who’s having a difficult birth. Or watching one of your tractors burning out in a field because a fuel line ruptured. Or…
Well, you get the idea.
Farming isn’t a ‘lifestyle’. Farming isn’t romantic. Farming isn’t images of cows grazing placidly in meadows. Farming is bloody hard work interspersed with moments of sheer panic as you watch things turning to crap because of circumstances outside of your control.