Farm News

Why Ever Would I Treat You the Same?

photo of bunches of ripe radishes

From the beginning, my agricultural ambitions were deeply earnest, even before anyone else was taking the idea of me learning to farm seriously. Even before I had made commitments to animals, plants or my community, I was a studious, determined and wholehearted researcher voracious for practical knowledge my own two hands could put to use. In many respects, this was not a conscientious choice. I didn’t know there was any other way of working toward a goal except hard and unrelentingly; I blame it on my parents.

In my family, once you made a commitment, you don’t stop until the job is truly done, and done well. You don’t give up because something is arduous or puzzling. This is a vastly different mindset than the old idiom about us Joneses. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I heard about “keeping up with the Joneses.” In fact, in my childhood, keeping up social appearances was never applauded. Our familial values had to do less with competition and more to do with personal growth. We weren’t to waste any time comparing ourselves to anyone but the face reflected back at us from the pond. As kids, our efforts were purely assessed by to the progress we’d made toward becoming more authentically our own inimitable selves.

When I complained about sibling inequality, my experienced and wise Mother would grin, hug me close and say mock-insulted, “Why of course! All of you are individuals, why ever would I treat you the same?”

When we embarked on a new challenge in which the outcome was far from certain, I remember telling each other: “Let them know a Jones was there.” Which really meant: work hard and with pride, give to the very best of your ability, and above all, remain true to yourself. This life ethic, instilled by generations of my family, is the genuine seed of my farming story. This is where I first learned that when it comes to the edging closer to the mastery of a craft, knowledge and heart are both indispensable and wholly indivisible. 

Early this year, I was asked to speak about the education of emerging farmers at a Food Summit. How was I to distill down the vast quantity of technical expertise and heart that new farmers will need to have? There are, of course, many resources to aid beginning farmers- educational programs, classic reference texts and extensive online resources.

But what about that elusive ability to connect subject matter expertise with trust? How does one balance market demand with exhaustion or contractual obligations with uncertainty? What does love have to do with botany or pest management with loss? Is it possible to authentically reconcile the pursuit of money with the stewardship of life?

Humans are not machines or plants. No matter the profession, we all infuse a horizon of emotion into our work. But in farming, this line is not a distant, abstract concept. This line is sharp and thin, as thin as the single blade of breath that separates the living from the dead. On behalf of many, it is we farmers who are tasked with wielding the knife.

Traditionally, such heady work required a lengthy education. Apprenticeships started from the time one was old enough to be entrusted with the egg basket or responsibly care for the bottle calf. But I was facing an audience of would-be first generation farmers. Without twenty years of on-hand farm experience, (age 0-20), how does one adequately prepare for the daunting work of stewarding so many beginnings and ends? What are the most important things an aspiring farmer needs to know?

These inquires are wholly unanswerable; such questions acutely typify a farmer’s central task. We can’t expect to ever find complete answers to our most crucial questions. Nevertheless, our work is to absolutely, doggedly, keep up the pursuit.

Over the coming weeks, I intend to share my conviction about the necessity of nurturing a new generation of agrarians as well as the knowledge and heart these fierce and courageous souls will need to cultivate. Now, I know that many of you have no green-thumb ambitions. Please understand: what I write is for you too. As stewards of land or self, we are part of an evolution; our job is to immerse ourselves in the work best suited to our individual and changing abilities—to revel not in perfection but in practice.

The sweet truth is that what I have to teach beginning farmers is actually what I hope all of us can learn: new tools and skillful encouragement for the journey toward becoming our own, inimitable selves. It’s time to roll up your sleeves. Systems Thinker, Network Collaborator, Creative Processor, Resourceful Innovator, Resilient Entrepreneur, Hardworking Learner. These are the varieties of seed I wish to teach you how to sow in the soil of your life. ~AJ

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