National Farmer Appreciation Day, 2018. My dad was in his final day of beet harvest and I was happy to have a day off on a beautiful blue skied day and get to spend it on the farm with him.
It had been many years since I’d squeezed into the cabin beside my dad, and it wasn’t just my larger size that made the fit feel a bit tighter now. Since moving away for college at 18, I became quite disconnected from my family’s farm, and a lot has changed since then. We have all been through a lot and we have all changed. And now that I am living on my parents’ farm again, I feel I’ve been extended a wonderful opportunity to learn more about their lives–farmers in general, and my parents, in particular.
The first thing I learned was the toll farming takes on the body. I was shocked by the aches in my body from sitting in a small, loud, vibrating cabin on a bouncing seat, turned a quarter-way around to look out the back window and make sure the digger’s blades are lined up appropriately over each row of beets. It made me feel grateful to be in a time in my life where I get to primarily look forward. And it made me eternally grateful for the hard work farmers put into our food.
The sun beams got me thinking about other weather, and about all of the hail we had in the summer. So much depends on the weather. Every day they are out there, preparing the field, planting the field, watering the field, (before roundup ready seeds) weeding the field, and every day they don’t know exactly how all that hard work is going to pay off. But they do it anyways. They care for the land. They grow food for other living things. This thought made me feel humble, insignificant in the great scheme. Mother Nature is so much greater than we humans, try as we might. I mean, so much goes into just one crop.
From speaking to my father, I estimate that over 400 hours of manual labor went into the 100 acres’ crop: disking the field, planting the seeds, managing the sprinkler irrigation, maintaining the equipment, then defoliating and digging and hauling the large brown beets to the factory over 4 days between 7 men.
Anyway, I was getting lost in thought, mesmerized by the perfectly straight rows being swallowed by the machine, when suddenly a long-forgotten memory from college popped into my mind.
Back in college, a classmate made fun of me one Fall when I excitedly announced that I was going to be able to get a new (used) car because my dad had a really good beet crop that year.
He made fun of me for something that was simply natural to me—that how much or when we bought things was determined by each year’s crop, each season’s weather, the market prices of corn, hay, sugar beets, etc. I didn’t understand his ridicule; I simply knew that some years we got to enjoy some extras, and some years, we simply got by.
So, as I recalled this experience from years ago, zoning out as we careened the bumpy rows I started thinking about society. And how we value a piece of paper with a face printed on it more than we value an actual hard working man (or his daughter) right in front of us, right there in the flesh. One real human will laugh in another real human’s face because her life was shaped differently by a piece of paper than theirs was.
I always knew me family wasn’t rich, but I never knew until that day Freshmen year that some people saw my world as something to be ashamed of.
Despite my father’s uncertain income as a farmer, he and my mother, who worked outside the home, made sure we five children had a home filled with books, homemade meals, clean clothes, etc. Even though we didn’t have everything, I never felt poor. My parents did everything they could to take the best care of me and my brothers and sisters.
I knew there were people in the world with a lot more money than we had, but I also knew that my dad grew the food we ate, made the best damn biscuits and gravy in the world, gave to the community generously, and I knew then as I do now, there was nothing in that lifestyle to be ashamed of.
But that day when Tony mocked me that my dad’s good beet harvest was the reason we could buy me a used car, my views and beliefs about hard work and good people was thrown on a different course than the one on which they’d previously been cruising.
A seed was planted in my stream of consciousness then, that hard work was not regarded with the respect it deserved. I continue to witness that We, the People of the United States, have an unhealthy relationship with work, and a very messed up definition of success, and what deserves respect.
I believe We have such a bad relationship with work and it causes a bad relationship with the rest of the world. On a recent NPA broadcast, I head Gary Cohn talk about a widely proclaimed sentiment that “There are American jobs that Americans just won’t do” and the controversial and rarely discussed perspective that if that is true, we need to keep the borders open. I know this seems like a stretch from my story about life on a farm, but it’s all related. We as a people do not respect hard work, but we respect money, which throws our balance off, a lot. Americans suffer from many negative consequences of not having balanced lives: poor health, long hours sitting in cars and at desks, chronic pain and depression, to name a few.
I recently quit my full-time career and 60+hour work week lifestyle so that I can pursue service work and serve the good of the people. Ideally, I would like to work much more in exchange of goods and services than for paper money. I think paper money has had some seriously bad, unintended consequences.
And I know that when I do something kind for someone else, it makes me feel a heck of a lot better than when I make money. And I know that I feel a whole lot better when someone does something nice for me than I feel when someone gives me money (but this isn’t about my love language-ha!).
I don’t want to shame anyone, that’s not why I’m writing this. I’m writing this because I cannot save the world alone. I know I am not alone, that there are many other amazing Earth Protectors, People protectors, human rights leaders, but We also need You. I do not want to shame you, I want to inspire you, but if guilt is what you feel when you think about these things, I ask you to sit with your feelings. Try to understand why you feel it so that you can better address it by making changes to your life and your actions: “If something offends you…look inward….that’s a sign that there’s something there.” (Whitney Cummings in Tools of Titans)
I write this because it is easier to do better than you might think. Doing better than yesterday isn’t about radical transformation. Those of you who know me personally have seen how many years it has taken me to get here, and I am just beginning my journey.
Even in the last couple of months, I have set big goals for myself, such as promising to only eat organic, local, and unpackaged food from that day forward. I didn’t mean to break a promise–when I declared that, it was truly how I felt at the time (not fake news, though) and then later when I tried to live that, I realized it wasn’t going to work out at this time (and not #metoo, either, because my organic, local, unpackaged Diet was understanding that I had verbally consented to something I wasn’t actually ready for, and It kindly extended an ongoing open invitation for whenever I am ready to jump into bed with It.) The truth is, none of us are perfect, and so I write this to remind myself of that, to remind you of that, and to extend a friendly hand to say, Come along with me. I’m on this journey, also. I am trying my best, also, and I would be happy to be on this journey together to support each other.
So, as you complete your ballots this Fall, here is something I ask you to keep in mind
The Farm Bill, if passed by Congress, will change the legal definition of hemp; Yes on Colorado’s X (think Yes…..seX….) will help Colorado and Colorado farmers, and is, I believe, one of the best things we can do for our economy and our planet. It’s pretty absurd that hemp is not already legal and in wide-production in the U.S. In fact, I think X is so positive, that even if 112, requiring stricter regulations on oil extraction sites, passes, we might be able to make up for economic downturn by embracing the hemp industry, as we are already leading the country in hemp production. So many products can be made from hemp, the non-psychoactive form of marijuana, that Coloradans could not only lead the industry in production of the plant itself, but also in manufacturing it into its various forms (rope, clothing, even fuel).
And please, next time you hear a story about a farmer, or come face to face with one, express your gratitude, not your condescension.