Why Do We Farm? Not for Wealth, Prestige, or Power
Chas. B. Wing, Farmer, Flower Grower and Seedman of Mechanicsburg, Ohio in Writing to the Farm and Fireside, Contrasts the Peaceful Life of the Farmer to the Turmoil of the City
This question really did puzzle me for a long time. I watch men who are of only mediocre ability go to the city shops and factories and make more money, with no investment whatsoever, than most of us do with a fair-sized and reasonably fertile farm.
So it isn’t the money in farming that helps us.
I watch other men, schoolmates, and apparently with no more brains than many of us, who go to the cities for various forms of brain work, succeeding admirably, where we seem to do far less here in the country; and this also troubled me for a while. Some of these men achieve fame, some wealth, some prestige, and power, while we who farm know that none of these things are for us.
Why, then, do we farm? I think that I know the reason, a most comforting one, and I only wonder if I can show you, in words.
When we plow, to most of us farmers the furrow that we turn is a living, breathing, sentient thing, filled with the grass roots, humus, air cells, and beneficent bacteria, all of which we know will now work for us, and all of which we consider as friends. We know as we turn the furrow that we are changing life itself, and that, shortly, we will be creating, or at least perpetuating, life; so we look upon our work with some curiosity, and more than a little wonder, for all life is somewhat of a miracle, one at which we never will cease to wonder.
The horse that draws the plow are not like machines. They also are living beings—with faults, to be sure, but with more good qualities, and think of them as really a part of the family; and to an extent so it is with the rest of the domestic animals with which we surround ourselves.
We unconsciously do many of the things we do because they have become part of ourselves. In summer we rise early partly because there is work to do, but also, in part, because we would not miss the sunrise, the fresh crispness of the dawn, the songs of the birds, the thousand different things that go with the beginning of a new day. Would we give this up for the cramped spaces, the shut-in, breathless confines of the city where no one ever dreams of seeing the sun rise or of hearing the birds?
We plant the crops, care for them, and exult to see them grow, acre after acre, and mile after mile, as far as we can see. We do not think of corn or wheat or meadow as a machine that strives, while we guide it to manufacture money for us, but it becomes a friend—in reality it is a part of the family. The money that it makes we know in advance will be meager or nothing at all; but the crop did its best, and we love it in the making, even if its life is spent for us to little financial avail.
Rain for the city man means the annoyance of umbrella and overshoes. For us it means the very life of a million thirsty plants, and it is, therefore, a friend.
The wonders of changing seasons: spring with the soft gray-green fawn and dull red of countless freshly opened forest leaves; summer, when the whole earth is alive, trembling and throbbing with life, even to the soil underfoot; autumn with its fruits and grains to be garnered, and its very fairyland of riotous color in autumn leaves; finally winter with its challenge to our manhood, its swirling leaves and peaceful snow—all these to the city man mean mostly a question of what clothes to wear today, and the beauty and wonderment of it all must needs to be lost to him, for he cannot see it or feel it.
Night with us means the calm and peace of resting nerves and muscles, when beast and bird, and even the humble insect, for the most part, lie down to pleasant dreams. But in the great city there is no night, and its inmates restfully rove the brilliantly lighted streets, searching for pleasure or amusement.
Wide spaces with us become part of our very being; hill and vale, the restful-looking belts of timber, miles of growing crops, of wild flowers in the fence rows, or even in the grain, the call of the quail, and the cheery whistle of the meadow lark—all these, without our realizing it, become inseparable from our life.
I supposed that half the men who live in American cities do not care to own their own homes. Really, I don’t blame them. The lawn is only ten feet square, the house so similar to a million others that it is no hardship to change from one to another. But we farmers nearly all own, or earnestly try to own, our homes.
We wouldn’t trade our Baldwin Greening, and Spy trees for Jim Smith’s orchard of other varieties. I should say not. Our barn may not look like a palace, but it shelters both feed animals, and beats John Brown’s all hollow, while as to garden there is no comparison between ours and the neighbors’; and there’s that rosebush hat Grandmother used to grow, and the lilac, the vines that climb over the porch—well, I wouldn’t want to move for anything. You see, this is our house.
Furrow and team, no matter how humble, the ever-present, ever-changing forms of life about us, bird note and cheerful cricket, shadow and sun, the life-giving rain, wild flowers under foot and beside the fields, the peaceful panorama of cultivated fields, pasturage, the wood lot, and a bit of smoke curling out from our own chimney—these things do more than weave meshes around us, they become interwoven with the fiber of our very souls, and inseparable from us.
That, my friends, is why we farm.
Credit: Tom Giessel archives