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Sept/Oct 2008 – Spelling Tests, Good Hay & the Bilemmas of Farming

Whatever God/life force that organizes the universe must have a love of ethical quandaries. How else to explain the confounding conflagration of must dos and should dos that occur each June, when there’s hay to be brought in and school concerts to attend? I’m sure many of you know the situation. Six hundred and fifty seven bales of premium hay are in the field. A filthy black cloud is squatting on the horizon. And young Kevin (who, unlike his sister, has never excelled at school) is getting a ribbon for spelling at the local elementary school’s award ceremonies.

What do you do? If you leave the hay in the field you risk having it rained on, and thus lose a significant per cent of the annual production value of the field. If opt to skip the school ceremony and bring the hay in you risk a) harming little Kevin for life (drugs? legal fees? visits to penitentiaries?) and b) looking like a cad.
I’m sure urban parents face the same dilemma, but I can’t believe it is to the same degree as us farmers. With farming, success is based on very few days/weeks of good harvest. In Metchosin, this year’s hay crop came off in 10 good baling days between May 24 and June 27. For the sake of discussion, let’s say I skipped one of those days to go to a school concert and it rained on 300 bales (10 per cent of our total). The hay has gone from $5.25 value to $4.50, or a total of $225 lost value. That’s not overwhelming, but the losses may not stop there. You’ve now got hay in the field, which slows down the progress to other fields. . . It doesn’t take too cynical a brand of math to come up with a $500-$1000 cost to attend the kid’s concert.

Perhaps it is misleading to put the quandary in monetary terms. Many of us farm because we have a goal of farming well. There is the expedient way of doing things, and there is the right way of doing things: taking the time to property clean and lime the jugs during lambing. Checking the automatic waterers for the hogs—daily. Tedding the hay an extra time to get the moisture from 16% to 14%. And part of farming well, for me, anyway, is getting the hay in at the right time, when it hasn’t gone to seed and stock.

To risk all the work that has gone into the field—wise grazing, rock-picking, fertilizer—for the sake of a few hours seems to devalue the effort, and to reduce farming to the status of a hobby, like model railroading, or car restoration.
It isn’t.

But kids are not a hobby either. I suppose an argument could be made that good parents forgo all sorts of things in support of their children. However, at the risk of sounding self-serving, I’m going to suggest that doing the right thing for a child isn’t always the same as doing what feels right. It may be that working hard, diligently and thoughtfully at farming is as beneficial to children as sitting in bleachers, watching the ribbons get handed out. (Please God, make this true!)