Reflection has always been one of my strengths. Pondering, thinking, overthinking perhaps. As Mayor Bloomberg's quote on farmers continues to swirl around with Eisenhower's quote on farmers, now more than ever, it's the perfect time to chew on both.
“Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil, and you're a thousand miles from the corn field.”Dwight D. Eisenhower
For those who have no idea what I'm talking about, Mayor Bloomberg, a Presidential candidate, was quoted saying:
I could teach anybody — even people in this room, no offense intended — to be a farmer. It’s a [process]: you dig a hole, you put a seed in, you put dirt on top, add water, up comes the corn.”… and then goes on further to say “The information economy is fundamentally different because it’s built around replacing people with technology and the skill sets that you have to learn are how to think and analyze, and that is a whole degree level different. You have to have to have a different skill set, you have to have a lot more gray matter.”-Mayor Bloomberg
And lest there be any confusion, gray matter refers to the dark tissue in our brains.
Basically – you have to have a bigger brain to be in tech than you do to be a farmer.
As a farmer, even a small scale one, I'm not angered by this. I don't know Bloomberg and he certainly doesn't know me. But it does cause me to momentary reflect on our time here on the farm as first-generation farmers and what we've learned of it – especially as we've built it alongside our digital-based businesses. As they say, we have a foot in both ponds.
On our farm, we grow sheep, chickens, ducks, geese, pigs, and cows. We also grow all our produce in an organic garden. There are many species, many varieties, and many factors at play on a diverse farm like ours – this is far from the mono-crop farms that build up a huge part of our country's agriculture foundation, so know that I am speaking from this perspective.
Also know that what I've learned, I've learned in the last two decades. I “met” my first cow when I was 16 and instantly fell in love. At 18, I went to Washington State University and at 19, I graduated with my BS in Animal Science – Beef Production.
(I love cows, what can I say.)
During my time at college, I always felt out of place as a first-generation “farmer”. I sat alongside people in my studies that grew up with eyes trained to see things I couldn't see.
Staring at a field of pregnant heifers and trying to visually spot the “open” ones (meaning not-bred). Couldn't see it.
Driving through fields in the middle of the night to identify cows that were close to birth so we could assist if needed. Couldn't spot them.
Working through pens of cattle and sorting out those ready for harvest by their fat layers and “finish”. Nope. nothing.
Good genetics. Feminine heads. Properly shaped udders. Round butts.
I. Couldn't. See. It.
A farmer growing cattle has to deeply understand weather. Birth. Genetics. The lifecycle of a dozen different grasses. Soil. Topography. Sales. Marketing. Futures. And they have to be tough as grit (if you've ever pulled a calf or held in a prolapsed uterus until the vet arrived, you may be able to relate here).
It wasn't until I bought my first dairy cow and spent every day tucked up under her flank that I began to appreciate the nuances of a cow. My very first cow, for example, had a very butch-looking head compared to my uber-feminine Sally Belle. Kula's teats were much longer and skinnier than Sally's short, plump teats. Sally had a hard time keeping condition on in the winter time, compared to my current dairy cow Cece. Sally required vigorous, fast milking or she'd angrily kick at you once she was finished with her feed whereas Cece will stand quietly while you finish. Sally hid her pregnancies very well, whereas Cece almost instantly plops her midline down into a saggy beach ball.
My points is that there are nuances. There are differences. And I had to work hard mentally and physically to train my body and mind to see these nuances and respond in a way that keeps my animals safe, healthy, and strong members of our farm.
I spent a lot time staring at my animals backsides before I had trained my eye to instantly see when a birth was imminent. Spotting a full udder, loose pelvic muscles, and the tiniest differences in ear movement, actions or attitudes can make the difference between life and death for your animals and their babies. (If you've ever had a ewe drop a lamb in a field during a snowstorm, you may be able to relate here).
The same goes for crops.
If you've ever gardened for more than five seconds, you know it's far beyond putting a seed in the ground and watching it grow. Plant the pea too early and the quail will eat off the sprouts. The onions too late, they won't have time to mature before the fall frost. The wrong variety, the carrots won't hold over until spring. The wrong location, the eggplants won't get hot enough to produce fruit. The wrong planting pattern, the corn won't pollinate correctly. The wrong depth of hole, the seedling won't ever make it out of the ground. The wrong planting date, the okra will collapse under the frosty chill.
There are a thousand nuances for my garden. My space. And those nuances are completely different than those of a garden ten miles way from here.
No one can teach you nuances. Unfortunately, failure is the very best teacher for us farmers – lose a crop or an animal and you're likely to never repeat your same mistake.
But you have to have eyes to see it. You have to be trained, conditioned, battered, and rebuilt by your experiences and hard-lessons. You have to train your eyes, and your spirit, to your land and your animals. You have to shut up and listen to what it's telling you.
Farmers aren't in charge. Nature is. And we're constantly having to analyze the world around us to keep our farms viable and strong.
Mayor Bloomberg, our world doesn't need to be farmer vs. tech. Farmers thrive on technology and anyone working in technology thrives on FOOD.
We aren't meant to be autonomous in this world – we're meant to be in community. We need each other.
There are many farmers not cut-out for the tech world. Great. Let them be the best friggin' farmers this world has ever seen.
Likewise, there are many techies not cut-out for the farming world. Great. Let them take our technology to the moon and back.
We aren't better or worse. We're different. We should be different. Because we have different histories… different personalities… different experiences… different callings… different passions… different skillsets… we have different jobs.
So let me get this straight.
Dig hole. Put cow in. Cover with dirt. Water. Grow milk.
That's how it works, right?
Dear Mayor Bloomberg, I fear you've oversimplified the glorious, earth-feeding, hard labors of farmers whos hearts have been trained for this exceptional work.
No more valuable or less valuable than your precious tech-world. Different. As it should be.