Saturday, August 2, 2008

My grandparents visited the farm just to hassle me--how was your friday?

So my grandparents called me Friday morning to tell me that they were thinking about visiting me. I've been telling them all summer that they should visit, but I didn't expect them to come. I was more or less just being open to the possibility of their coming, and politeness factors in there somewhere as well. Needless to say, I would have liked more warning, a.) because they don't know that my boyfriend and I are living together, and it's hard to cover up that fact, and b.) because I work full-time, and getting off work at the last minute isn't easy, especially on market-prep day. I went to work as usual, and they showed up at around 5:30. I could immediately tell that my grandmother was a fish out of water, or rather, a suburbanite out of the burbs. She managed to look very uncomfortable, and she viewed the goats with disdain, if not disgust. This is not a surprise to me, as she tends to be dramatic, and has spent the last twenty years, at least, making sure that not a speck of dust is safe in her house. A farm is not a place where you fret about dust. It's there, it's thick, and it's not going to go away just because you show up with a feather duster. Not to mention goat shit, mud, and various other farm residues. I guess I've become pretty used to it all. I don't much notice the smells anymore, and when I step in something squishy I don't think too much about it. I pet goats all the time, let them chew on my fingers, and I've been peed on a few times. My grandmother came from a farming family, but I think she washed her hands of that pretty quickly. She and my grandfather have a small family garden, but I get the feeling she goes along with it simply because that's what she's always done--canning and preserving. She's an incredibly sweet woman when she wants to be, and I know that she loves me so much that she does not want me to work on a farm. She essentially visited me to try to dissuade me from doing what I am doing, and what I love to do.

Ok, let's examine this further. Farming was viewed, in the past few decades, as something to get away from. You gew up on a farm, moved to the city, and found a nice office job. Our pop culture has fed upon this modern archetype for years--that of the country girl moving to the city and making it big. Country kids with inbred, pedophilic parents getting away, leaving the country for something better. Inbred, pedophilic parents aside, the country really isn't a bad thing. Farming really isn't a bad thing. I mean, we all have to eat, don't we? And someone has to grow the food, don't they? And people care more and more about where their food comes from and where it was grown and how it was grown, don't they? This is true. I am greatly encouraged by the recent interest in small-scale, local, organic food production whether it be veggies, cheeses, preserves, or baked goods. The interest in farmers' markets and "buying local" in spite of the worsening economy is simply amazing. And people are educating themselves. They ask lots of questions about (in my case) how the cheese was produced, where it was made, how the goats are treated and what they're fed, etc. This is all great. But I think people still assume that farming is the basic grunt-work of society requiring little brain and a great tolerance for sweat, blood, and tears. People love to stop and chat with their small farmer at the market, but if their child expressed an interest in farming, they'd nip that one in the bud.

Somehow, being a doctor or a lawyer or an architect is better than being a farmer. Granted, the failure rate is huge, the learning curve is pretty scary, and there's good reason for parents to worry about their child's possible failure. I worry about my own possible failure. If I am able to secure a piece of land and withstand the precarious nature of starting a small farm, I'll consider myself fortunate. That leads me to think about what is considered valuable in this country. If our current government considered small-scale agriculture to be important (which it is), there would be enough small farms in any given area to support the local economy. Instead, we have a few corporate giants who grow most of the food produced in this country, and thus control the market. If our government considered organic, sustainable agriculture to be important (which it is), there would be government-sponsored training in organic farming, making it easier for small farmers to learn valuable techniques even if they decided not to go completely organic. I think we all realize (I say "we all" because I know that about 4 people read this blog and we are all of the same opinion in this matter) that small-scale, organic (or, as is the case with raising animals, conscientious), local food production is healthier for the body, the community, and the environment. But my grandmother was simply expressing a concern that reflects, I believe, a widespread notion in this society--that farming is somehow less cerebral and therefore less honorable than professions that require two or more degrees.

Perhaps I am mistaken. I would like to think so. Maybe it's simply my grandmother's age and generation that make her think the way she does. In any case, shifting the public's appetite seems to be easier than shifting their beliefs.

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