One of the prejudices about artisanal, small-scale food farmers is that they are “going back” to the land. The truth is, they are going forward to the land. For several generations now the older people in our preponderantly urban population have handed down to their children an image of farming based on experiences that date back to the early 1900s. The hard life they described of lonely, boring days without electricity, running water, television, radio, central heating furnaces, and fathers who overworked their children in a vain effort to keep up with mounting industrial farming costs, got imbedded in the subconscious minds of urbanites even though they know it isn’t true anymore. These old images have left a prejudicial residue on urban minds that scents the mental air with the notion that farmers are somewhat backward and less intellectually aware of what is going on today. When we were trying to get a new doctor or two into our rural county as late as the 1970s, some prospects, or more often their wives, did not want to come here because they figured rural communities were intellectually narrow-minded and uninformed and our schools not good enough for their precious children. People infected with this kind of bias unconsciously think that going into farming today are “going back” to the clodhopper days of the past.
It has been left to my generation that stayed in rural areas and whose lives have spanned the years from the old farm culture to the new, to try to convince urbanites that there are no clods to hop anymore. We know what it was like to live without electricity, to farm with horses, to amuse ourselves without radio or television, to wash clothes with wringer type machines or even on scrub boards, to keep our feet warm in bed with a hot sadiron, to brave cold weather to go outside to the outhouse. We also know that those days were not as bad as they sound, nor did it mean we grew up ignorant of other worlds. Many of us read voraciously and, together with all the skills we had to learn to keep a farm running, we were surely as well educated and informed as most people in town. My parents brought home from the library in the car a back seat overflowing with books every two weeks. Mom saw the movie “Gone With The Wind” in 1937 and re-told the whole story to us as we walked along through a corn field alongside a wagon pulled by horses picking up corn the binder had knocked off the stalks.
My generation also knows the present situation on the farm which is essentially no different than living in town. Or more precisely, it is just like living in town as far as creature comforts and technical progress are concerned but without many of the hassles of city life. This new age farming is far from being cut off from the world— can’t be even for those of us who would prefer that. The electronic age has brought the universe to our barnyards. Even more accurately than that, many new age farmers aren’t moving anywhere but simply use their backyards and empty lots, even in cities, —especially in cities— for an advanced kind of agronomy that can produce more food on one acre than the olden farms could on three. These new farms, in town or out, have a much hotter market close at hand for high quality vegetables, fruits, grains and meats than in olden times. Even more to the point, the back forty itself is taking on new dwellers so that what was once the “lonely” farmland of the early to mid twentieth century is now dotted with gracious ex-urbanite homes of people who have been reversing the migration to the cities for the last 30 years.
Most importantly of all, these farms have all kinds of new tools and techniques that take the grind out of the physical labor involved. New age farmers have only a few days a year when they have to work overly long hours to get the work done. In general they suffer from no more physical drudgery and discomfort than sport teams demand of their players. All that a contented life requires on these farms is the ability and knowledge to enjoy life without having a lot of money to spend. And as our economy lurches along, that looks like what is coming for most of us no matter where we live.