Thursday, June 2, 2016

251. Farm work made me tougher

In one of my favorite movies, “The Natural,” New York Knights manager Pop Fisher and aging comeback star Roy Hobbs, played by Robert Redford, have an exchange about farming. Pop talks about what he would do if he had won a championship: “I’d have walked away from baseball and I’d have bought a farm.”

Hobbs replies, “Nothing like a farm. Nothing like being around animals, fixing things. There’s nothing like being in the field with the corn and the winter wheat. The greenest stuff you ever saw.”

Growing up on a small farm and loving baseball, I’ve seen that movie several times. There is a lot in that movie about life, comebacks, passion, greatness, mistakes, and greed. It’s an examination of how fast life can change.

Our farm was small and not necessarily commercial. It really only lasted six or seven years. We had chickens, ducks, rabbits, cows, pigs,and occasionally a horse. The 11 acres also had a barn, vegetable gardens, pasture, and tractors. My father was a city kid and I am still not sure what really inspired his attraction to farming. As a child, it was often a hindrance — creating a list of chores that delayed playing with friends.

However, I now look back at our time on the farm with great affection. For me, our farm offered more than just tomatoes or eggs; it provided an insight into life and nature. As a kid, so much was imprinted on me, from what cucumber leaves look like to the difficult realities of the lives and deaths of farm animals. I did a lot of things I wouldn’t do now, such as shoot a rabbit or kill a chicken. At the time they seemed like rites of passage.

Farms are a lot of work. There is not only the daily feeding and watering of the animals, there is work in the garden, maintenance, and other miscellaneous duties such as ordering supplies and feed. Animals need to be taken care of every day of the year—and that means in the freezing cold of winter and days we were going to Cedar Point. Some days were miserable. Others it was just an annoying chore. In between, it was learning about life — and is probably why I majored in biology. I spent time with the animals, worked with them, looked them in the eyes, played with them, and learned their personalities. I also cried when they died or it was time to send them to slaughter. It was certainly a family endeavor and some of our lasting family moments come from the farm, such as the time the horse got stuck on the frozen pond or the time the cows got out. There was nothing better than a home-cooked dinner after a long day of work.

With the advent of large corporate farms, genetic modifications, and modern science medicine, I think we have lost an important aspect of what it means to live on and off this planet. More than that, I think children have lost the opportunity to learn about nature, hard work, and responsibility. I don’t want to stereotype because there are still many farms but increasingly society is moving away from the viability of small farms and the families that work on them.

Living in the suburbs and cutting the grass once a week, walking through the metro parks on Saturday mornings, or attending farm camp once a summer is not a substitute for the experience of the daily responsibility of farm life — just as my experience was not nearly as difficult as those that lived in previous generations. When watching shows about life in colonial times or visiting historic sites and seeing what they endured, I am left in admiration.

If we want to make America great again, I think America needs to get tougher. Of course, I don’t mean gangster tough, I mean grind it out, down-and-dirty tough. We need teach the value of hard work and the appreciation of life to the next generation. It should be the personal work ethic that leads to future success — doing what it takes through adversity to get ahead.

A little farm work might just be the answer. There is nothing like it.

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