Farming Tip #137 or The Curious Humor Of A Complex Universe


Say a starry eyed city slicker shows up to the farm talking about wanting to work outdoors, with nature, and flowers, and staying in shape and wanting to get back to some romanticized version of some theoretical idea of what farming is, and suppose they want to quit their office job, buy some land, and sit on the front porch chewin’ on a piece of straw listenin’ to the “kayoats”, and say they want to work on your farm for a while so they can “learn the ropes.” You know who I’m talking about (ahem, what? Not me!). Well tell that person, “Why sure, why don’t you come back tomorrow and we’ll get you started.” Now you know it’s going to rain tomorrow and you know you’ll be harvesting carrots so why have them start today? Right?

They show up, of course, bright eyed and nearly winded from the excitement of it all, and it’s raining (as predicted!) and you hand them a digging fork and you send them out to the far field, that one waaayyyy over there about an 1/8 of a mile away and you tell them we need 120 lbs of carrots, cleaned, bunched 6 a piece, all pretty looking. They’ll have to walk the carrots back to the packing shed because it’s too wet to bring any equipment into the fields. Now you watch them as they bound off with glee because they’re farming now (!) and to hell with that stupid office job and they’re gonna farm and be happy and … keep an eye on them throughout the morning. Look at their face (if you can see it under all that mud) and you watch as their clothes begin to sag from the rain (no rain gear), their backs begin to hunch over a little, and you check in with them with some verbal contact to make sure they’re still able to form complete sentences and know what day it is and who the President is and all that.

Encourage them of course, give them some positive feedback (even though you know you’re gonna have to send in some reinforcements to pick up the slack), put a smile on your face and go about your business. About noontime call him in to the packing shed and tell him that’s all for today. Nice work. Hope to see ya tomorrow morning.

Now you know where I’m going with this. Either he/she shows up tomorrow or not. But the important thing is done. You’ve done the most compassionate thing you could ever do for that person by trying to disabuse them of any idyllic notions they may have of what farming is early on so they can get back to their comfortable (and well paid) lives. Nice job, now pat yourself on the back.

Here’s the complicated part which you have no control over and you’ll never know if this is what did it. “It” being what caused this person to come back the next day (sorer than they’ve ever been despite that monthly gym membership). This person could have been out there cursing himself, cursing the carrots, hurling demeaning epithets at the mud, wondering why in the hell carrots were so damn cheap and shouldn’t they be priced like ten times what they are I can’t believe people do this….and then it happens. Out of the corner of his eye something catches his attention and he notices a jackrabbit go bounding off into the bushes and he thinks to himself, “Wow, look at the size of those ears!” And truly, they are magnificent ears. And nearly everyone who sees a jackrabbit for their first time has this same reaction. But just then, as if on cue, here comes the tailess bobcat leaping not far behind in impressive bursts, trained on the jackrabbit with laser-like intensity, following each turn with incredible precision until he too disappears into the bushes, (the white rump being the last thing you see on a bobcat) and then, as if nature wrote the script just for our hapless newbie–because, it seems, she has a curious sense of humor–a redtail hawk shrieks above as it whirls in the gray sky casting an unshakable punctuation mark to it all. Right there, just right there is where the hook is set. Our newbie farmer is coming back tomorrow no matter what. There’s no changing it.

Despite your best intentions the universe has its ways and when that newbie shows up tomorrow you’ll never know why and depending on your disposition at the time you’ll either shake your head in disbelief, or nod at them when they arrive in a sort of “I think I know” sense (or maybe inside joke sense?). Pat them on the shoulder and send them off to do something easy, like…like…well, just find them something to do that involves flowers or lavender or, my personal favorite, basil. They earned it. And besides, it might be a while before they see another bobcat.


J. Jason Graff


About J. Jason Graff

J. Jason Graff received an undergraduate degree in Creative Writing and a Masters degree in Education from the University of Washington and began a career in teaching shortly after. He has several short stories published and his poem “On Knowing the Temple Bell” was published in Insight Journal in 2007. After teaching in the public school system for five years Jason shifted into sustainable agriculture and received organic farmer training leading to his working with undergraduate and graduate students at the University of California—Davis in organic farming and sustainable farming practices. Jason currently lives as an artist and writer in the Sierra Mountains with his wife and dog enjoying and observing the ever-shifting conditions of the mountain environment.
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