In the past year, I’ve been thinking quite often about why I do this work. At some point, I realized that since I don’t talk about it, people might not know much about my motivations. I’m guessing farmers’ motivations vary about as much as the motivations of people in any profession, but for some reason I feel rather misunderstood at times.
More on that below, but first, along these lines, it occured to me that if people misunderstand my motivation, perhaps I’m misunderstanding my customers’ motivations . . . and if I knew more about why they fork over hundreds of dollars for CSA shares every year, it might help me be a better farmer.
Each fall I survey Stone’s Throw Farm members, and though one farm member asked me this year if I’ve ever considered skipping the survey, I think it’s important. For one thing, I want my customers to know that I care about their opinions and take their feedback seriously. For another thing, there’s always one or two survey results that I find surprising. (Who would have guessed people want more green beans than they received last season? Not me.)
My farm members usually are pretty good about taking surveys; last fall I got 31 responses, out of 45 shares (75 households). Though not as good as in previous years, it wasn’t a bad response rate (thanks, guys). Anyway, when asked about the benefits of Community Supported Agriculture, 100% of respondents rated “I know the vegetables are truly fresh & organic” as “very important.” No surprise.
This is what they want: good food. I can do that.
The fact that I can grow good food may seem unremarkable, but it’s not something I take lightly, and gets me back to my original point. I was struck by something I read in Utne Reader recently regarding our nostalgic notions about farming:
When was the last time you met someone who actually wanted to grow corn, beets, beans, or pumpkins? . . . Who among you wants to be up from dawn to dusk, at the mercy of Earth’s natural systems, living on faith amongst secular technologies, covered in mud all the time, no time for art, music, or self-expression?”
–Darren Fleet, “Gardening Beyond Reason,” originally published in Adbusters
After reading this passage, I felt a surge of emotion that stopped me in my tracks, so to speak. (The point Mr. Fleet was making is that farming isn’t valued even though it’s absolutely necessary for our survival, but I won’t get into that here except to say that I was warned early on to not, under any circumstances, figure out how much money I’m making per hour [not exactly a living wage].) My response was, “That’s me. I want to do that.”
The main reason I took up farming is that I like the work. I like being outside all the time for 7 months of the year; I like working with plants and animals more than working with people; I like the physical challenges and that fact that I’m asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow at the end of the day; I like the mental challenges (yes, it does require a brain, though I didn’t really understand that until I started doing it, so I can almost forgive those who think a smart monkey could do my job); I like that this type of farming requires skills that I naturally possess. I accept the fact that I can’t control nature, only admire it and treat it with respect; and while I wouldn’t say that I like being covered in mud, I’d much rather be dirty all the time than wear a business suit to work every day.
The fact that I’m producing healthful food that people want to buy is, while necessary (since I couldn’t afford to work for free), really just a bonus for me. The fact that sustainable agriculture is good for the environment and necessary for our continued survival on this earth is just a bonus. The fact that my customers are wonderful people is just a bonus. The fact that CSA builds community among consumers is just a bonus. The fact that my work provides me and my family with good food is, in all honesty, just a bonus, too. I’m really not that much of a cook.
I do it because I like it out there in the field. I imagine plenty of other farmers feel the same way, but I just wanted to speak for myself.