So, it must be nice working a job without the stress of the office, huh?
Ok, so it’s true, I don’t have to spend my time off glued to my iPhone just in case that early morning office meeting gets moved from 9AM to 8AM. I don’t wake up with the same kind of empty anxiety that accompanies ironing your clothes for the early morning commute, and I don’t really ever feel like I need to watch TV or have a drink to decompress from the tension of inner-office competition. There’s no needing to put on makeup, no computer failure, no inner-office email fiascoes.
But, to the people who keep asking me this question, I just want to say: why don’t you try waking up in a cold sweat from a nightmare that you’ve somehow managed to kill all of the vegetables and have destroyed the summer harvest?
Here’s the other side of the truth: farming, like any other business, is necessarily stressful, because it demands that the farmer make a constant stream of choices even though there are so many elements that are out of the farmer’s control. I wrote last week about the weather and how one rainstorm can keep you from doing necessary work for almost a week. Well, the weather can do much more that that: inconsistent rain, for instance, can destroy an entire crop of tomatoes. Cold weather can stunt the growth of spring crops. Then there are other factors like bugs, disease, and super weeds… And, there is the additional stress of having to plant things before you know what people are going to want to eat in two months. You can plant a hundred or so eggplants (which will each yield a few eggplant), but if Dr. Oz suddenly does a segment on the why eggplant is bad for weight loss, and less people will want to buy it. What are you going to do with the leftovers? What else could you have planted in that space instead? Conversely, though, if Martha Stewart does a spread on healthy eggplant dishes for the workweek, they’re going to sell like hotcakes, and maybe you don’t have enough to keep up with demand. Should you have planted more eggplant and less edamame?
My point is really just that there’s a lot of planning, forethought, knowledge, and dialogue that goes into this thing of growing food. It’s no Wall Street, but it is still, to some degree, business. That being said, of course, it’s business where you get to wipe the dirt of your hands and on to you pants. When office workers are stressed, they have to find ways to try and relax until they can get to the gym later. When farmers feel anxious, they can very literally work it out in the fields through the tasks that need to be done. So, no, farming is not stress free, but by the time we’re done pounding, scraping, and digging our way through the day, it’s hard to have any energy left over for anxiety. So, in that sense, the lifestyle that comes with farming is to some degree significantly less stressful than others. Because, you know, even while I’m having nightmares about trampling all the swiss chard, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t sleeping like a baby.