Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Unified Life

"Farmers farm for the love of farming. They love to watch and nurture the growth of plants. They love to live in the presence of animals. They love to work outdoors. They love the weather, maybe even when it is making them miserable. They love to live where they work and to work where they live. If the scale of their farming is small enough, they like to work in the company of their children and with the help of their children. They love the measure of independence that farm life can provide. I have an idea that a lot of farmers have gone to a lot of trouble merely to be self-employed, to live at least a part of their lives without a boss."

-- Wendell Berry, Bringing It to the Table

We are a generation that's been taught from an early age that farming is back-breaking, mindless, futile work. As a cohort of potential knowledge workers who would pioneer the technological future, we've been directed, herded and maybe even coerced to pursue instead the much better, the much more lucrative, path of professionalism.

Lost in the generalities of work is the distinction between what one gives and what one gets.

Money vs Time

Culturally we have forgotten that work is work and work is hard. Regardless of the profession, the days are long, the work is consuming and draining, the pay is always meager and the time is in ever short supply. It has only gotten worse since the recession where each person is now required to do the work of many, often on reduced pay. "You should be glad to have a job" is a mantra.

Work will often keep you too busy, thus too tired to care; it doesn't matter how much you make because money can't buy anything on its own. If you value time and the quality of it, more than money, then (contrary to our hyper-capitalistic upbringing) money isn't everything. Furthermore, a life largely self-sufficient, whether by choice or necessity, does not require a lot of money to provide comfort. Ted Carns in "Off on Our Own" writes, "Focus upon necessity brings about a profound change and leads to a different reality. Desires are focused on the future; necessity is faced in the moment." I have yet to meet a person more self-sufficient than a farmer.

Isolation vs Collaboration

What makes the difference, what has the potential to make work more fun than dreadful, is the people along side of which you toil. In the professional world, I had to expend a lot of energy to present a facade appropriate for a rigid corporate culture. A guarded self is challenging to maintain and isolating; I was always afraid of being discovered a fraud and my true-self rejected.

In the field, people are authentic and the environment is naturally social and highly collaborative. There's plenty of frustrated expletives mumbled under the breath -- and sometimes exclaimed loudly in exasperation -- but there's much more frequent outbursts of laughter from the animated telling of stories and recent experiences while working together throughout the day. On the farm, I have found that I can be myself and be accepted (even valued) for who I am.

Efficiency vs Humanity

In the age of technology, humans are reduced to and only deemed valuable by the quality of their minds. Additionally, the mind is expected to function at its optimum capacity regardless of job stress intensity, circumstances outside of work, family responsibilities or personal health. Professional work demands the ability to produce with ever more machine-like efficiency, which produces a monotonous life without balance. It is a stressful life that requires a great amount of artificial, energy-intensive and constant amendments to restore balance.

On the farm there's no need to carve out separate time for work, play, hobbies, exercise, health, relationships, friends, family and fulfillment. The juggle and struggle to achieve a healthy work-life balance is non-existent because it is one and the same. Furthermore, the farm requires the complete person: mind, body and drive. Farming is an art and a science that requires broad knowledge, vigilant awareness, keen observation, creative problem-solving, can-do (stubborn) determination, clever resourcefulness and phenomenal cooperation.

Stress vs Contentment

I'll concede that farming isn't for everyone, but only with the concession that the professional life isn't for everyone either, certainly not for me. If given the choice between languishing behind a computer screen isolated in my own head for 10-12 hours a day or laboring with my hands out in the fields with people I respect, admire and even call friends from sun-up to sun-down, I'll choose the latter.

Farm work is physical, demanding and long but it's healthy, too. Throughout the day, I nibble on fruits and vegetables that I pluck fresh from the soil. I never worry about how much I eat or how much I'll need to exercise later, because the work is so active. At the end of the day, I sleep deeply and soundly; exhausted yet satisfied from a job well done. I awake well rested and ready to start a new day. Each day is a little different as the plants, and therefore the chores and responsibilities, change with the seasons. In addition to the daily feedback and visible results of my efforts, there is always as an achievable end in sight. I look forward to winter as a time that I can truly rest.

When work is dynamic, engaging and satisfying and coworkers are friends and family, the farm life is actually pretty damn good.

Recommended Reading

The Essential Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter and Willow Rosenthal
Off On Our Own by Ted Carns
Permaculture: Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability by David Holmgren

Stephanie Rexroth is a serious reader, a seasonal writer and an aspiring permaculturalist in Pittsburgh, PA. You can follow her reading lists on Goodreads, read more articles on her Blog and follow the progress of her #EdibleBalcony2013 on Twitter.