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Oh no, bad habits reinforced; pushed (and pulled) into farming

The workshop was a disaster. There’s no other way to describe it. Broken hacksaws and bent nails and half-full lubricant containers were layered fist deep on the workbench. The floor was heaped with buckets of rusty hinges, snarled extension cords and ossified, kinked garden hoses. Frayed ropes hung like jungle vines from the trusses.

This was the state of the workshop I recently took over. It is beside the barns where we overwinter hogs. Instead of working out of a toolbox, as I had been, it seemed sensible to try and reclaim the essentially abandoned shop.

The next step was to clean and organize it. I am not by nature tidy nor am I a thrower-outer. I keep things, even when they have no obvious use. Yet I have always admired those farm workshops that are wonderfully tidy and set-up. They seem to speak to a tidy and well-set up mind.

The trouble is, the old stuff I keep yields something useful—a nut and bolt, a rod of some sort—just often enough that I am discouraged from throwing it out.

So, you see, as I faced the masses of accumulated stuff in this workshop I had a small but intense internal dilemma—do what I thought was right or do what I felt was right?

It is a struggle that repeats itself often on the farm, in many different ways. My way or what seems like the proper way?

This particular dilemma was short lived. In the first few weeks the messy workshop yielded useful switches, tie-downs, washers and tools. There were boxes of oils and solvents. I even found a feed store cap from the 1980s that is now the envy of the coffee shop crowd.

Talk about reinforcing bad habits. With that kind of payoff for keeping what appeared to be nothing but clutter, you’ll never see the top of my workbench.


* * *

Given the tough economics of farming it is a puzzle that so many young people continue to seek it as a career. The usual thinking is that the richness of farm life is a big attraction. Life. Death. Diesel fuel. Weeds. Broken irrigation lines. From morning to end of day, the work of a farmer is filled with physical challenges that so far exceed those of urban life that many young people are pulled into farming, despite the haywire economics.

Yet I wonder if there isn’t something about modern life that isn’t pushing people into farming as well. Specifically, I am thinking of the physical conditions of the jobs where so much education leads people: to a job sitting on their arse, in front of a screen, eight hours a day. It doesn’t matter what profession or career: archeologist, geologist, lawyer, software engineer, dispatcher, pilot. The tyranny of the digital workplace is such that the end result is the same—arse and screen.

This is the push I’m talking about. I imagine a young person considering careers and the sedentary life that goes with many of them, then driving down the road to a market garden to see if they need any help this summer.