Saturday, February 22, 2014

Appreciate Your Local Farmers

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
                                                             -Robert A. Heinlein

How many people do you know that are really good at their job? I mean REALLY good. Often they've studied for years and dedicated both large amounts of money and time in accomplishing their goals of being top in their field. Generally speaking there's nothing wrong with finding out what you're good at and where your talents lie and then magnifying them. It's more efficient to have people do what they're good at for the benefit of society. You have the land and ability to raise animals, I like to raise vegetables, our friend Joe is good at healing people, and we all trade between ourselves and it works out. That's what makes communities, villages and whole societies work.   

The problems come when we have a society of people SO specialized that they have either an un-marketable skill or they are lacking the basic skills for everyday living. People who cannot clean a home, cook or take care of themselves. I don't mean the elderly or infirm, I'm talking about the computer programmer who understands the inner workings of everything digital who can't cook a baked potato in his microwave for 5 minutes. Or the researcher who can split atoms and never remember to by toilet paper for his apartment. If we're a society that thinks these things are important then we support them by paying large wages that allow them to hire people to run their lives for them as assistants and house keepers. They concentrate on the brain work and someone else keeps their home running smoothly. And that's where we're at right now. A small number of highly specialized people and an army of workers.

But wouldn't it be better for us as individuals if, in addition to our chosen profession, we had some other useful skills? What if there was a hurricane and we needed to board up our own windows and turn off the power because nobody was available to help us? What if we could use our gardening skills to help out a neighbour by trimming her trees and lawn? I'm not saying we have to be all things to all people, but developing some useful skills is never a waste of time. Even a brain surgeon can learn to grow herbs on his kitchen window sill.

Farmers are a great example of this. I would say that in the course of a year the average Canadian farmer does the following jobs to one degree or another:

mechanic
electrician
plumber
doctor
vet
therapist
structural engineer
bookkeeper
maid
cook
chauffer
wrangler
etc etc etc

Farmers can do a lot with bale twine, nails and a hammer, and the ingenuity that's born of necessity. Why? Because some love it, and because farmers are busy and independent people by nature I would say. They will for sure call the vet when it's needed and the electrician if it's a tricky job but otherwise they're pretty good at knowing what they can fix and what is above their level of understanding. They'll often give it a shot and aren't afraid to get underneath something to see if it's an obvious problem they can solve themselves.

People still often think of farmers as 60 year old white haired men sitting on tractors, leaning on fences, wearing coveralls, chewing stalks of hay and acting a little slow mentally but nothing could be further from the truth. They tend to be a practical and well rounded bunch of people who also know who is good at what so they can ask for help if needed. Farmers are almost a community within a community. Sure some are specialized producers of only one crop but many, especially small scale farmers are reasonably good at many different things both on and off the farm. They make good neighbours and are often willing to lend a hand.

Farmers deserve respect. Sure, their tractor driving down the road might make you 2 minutes late getting somewhere, they may believe that a good roll of duct tape is worth it's weight in gold, they may use electrical tape for a band-aid (if they use them at all). But they work hard to feed us and to provide many of the products we use every day. So if you get a chance this coming year, stop at a road side stand or farmers market and tell them how much you appreciate them.  I know that I for one would appreciate it  :)     

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