Growing up, I spent most of my summers with my dad on our family’s 145-acre farm in Kimbolton, OH. He and my uncle somehow managed to maintain it while also holding down full-time jobs as letter carriers for the U.S. Postal Service. I still to this day don’t know how they did both of those things.
From what I can tell so far in life, farming is the hardest job there is. It’s tough, both physically and mentally. Animals and crops rely on you, and they don’t care if you’re sick or tired or want to go on vacation. They don’t care if the weather is bad or if you have to work overtime. They need you, and you must be there to care for them.
I learned a lot about life during those summers, and I’m happy to say that I’ve been able to apply all of those lessons in my adult life.
Here are the ones that stand out:
Don’t burn daylight. Start your day before the sun rises. There’s a lot to do and there’s only so much time to do it. Use your time wisely and don’t put things off.
Work your ass off. Don’t just work hard; work your ass off. If you set out to complete a task, do it to the best of your abilities. “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right,” I would hear my dad say with frequency. Hard work promotes good physical health, and being physically tired generally means better sleep.
Seek efficiency. Finding more efficient ways to complete projects not only saves time, but often minimizes physical strain. Repetitive tasks quickly teach you to find faster and easier ways to get the job done. Being unconventional is highly encouraged, in fact. Farmers are innovators and they are great teachers of simplicity. Sometimes I think we make things more complicated than they have to be.
There is much gratitude in the circle of life. Our family raised hogs and cattle. Most of the time we sent them off for processing, but we did a bit of salt-curing ourselves. While I was thankfully not around for the actual butchering process as a child, I knew that it happened. And I was grateful to the animals for what they provided us. Because of that, I have always had a deep appreciation for farmers who raise livestock. Real farmers are humane and care for their animals. Those beautiful creatures were blessings while they were living just as they are blessings after their time has passed.
Use what you have. Sometimes you just have to make do with what you have. If you don’t have the exact tool you need, you have to find another way to do it. You quickly learn to be creative and appreciate what you have–creativity and gratitude are essential farm tools.
Don’t be afraid to get dirty. Getting dirty is a lost art. In our culture being dirty is synonymous with all sorts of negative labels, but in some ways dirt reminds us of our deep connection with the earth. Going barefoot is their way of staying connected to the world. No matter what your beliefs are on footwear, getting a little dirt under your fingernails could even be healthy. As expected, the CDC encourages proper nail hygiene practices, but some believe that a little dirt doesn’t hurt. An article in Scientific American notes that “…a great deal of research has shown that exposure to diverse bacteria or even parasitic worms helps to train and regulate the immune system, preventing it from becoming over-active.” We still have a lot to learn about the symbiotic relationships that exist in our environment, but a little dirt is just fine with me.
Take time to reflect on your accomplishments. The sense of satisfaction I see on my father’s face after he completes a project never ceases to amaze me. A cut field, a trimmed fence line, a painted building…those works of art provide him with a sense of accomplishment and pride. It is a reward in itself to see a job done well, a task crossed off the list. I understand now that reflection is a form of self-motivation. It helps us build confidence and momentum to take on bigger, more complex projects. We feed our inner strength by saying, “I can do it…because I just did!”
Take care of your tools. In line with the “use what you have” mentality, farmers understand that you must take care of your equipment. Cleaning, maintaining, repairing and storing tools out of the weather are the most basic principles of sustaining a farm. As consumers, I suspect we would consume less if we took better care of what we have.
Neighbors are family. In the country, neighbors aren’t just people you wave to from your car window. They are your extended family. They would drop what they are doing to help you, and you would do the same for them. They offer their time and equipment without being asked. They are people that you confide it, laugh with and grieve with. A community doesn’t have to consist of hundreds or thousands or people; it can exist in your own backyard.
These experiences and observations have made me who I am today. In fact, I’ve probably learned even more than I realize. Nature has a way of teaching great lessons when we stop long enough to pay attention. But farmers figured that out a long time ago.