We have properly arrived to that region of the year, “midsummer”. These are the days associated most in our memory with summer, though the solstice has by now passed. Tomorrow, baseball’s all stars take the field, after all, for the midsummer classic.
This week is also the middle of my season here at the farm. The first three months have absolutely flown by. Riding back from the city on the train yesterday, I felt finally comfortable telling someone I was a farmer. Though wildly enthusiastic about the work, I am still, three months in, wary of my own enthusiasm. I still wonder fairly often if I’m really serious about this or just giddy about the idea.
I went to a small school for college with an excellent finance program. I played rugby with a lot of people going that route, and I remember talking about one of my school’s Chicago-based programs with a teammate I hold in high esteem; he made the point that while what I was doing was cool and all, he had a ‘serious’ career to pursue.
At the time, I was working in the Field Museum.
And I find that attitude a lot–that knowing how to leverage money is more important,more serious, more right than knowing how the world works. Of course, the two are not mutually exclusive. But, we pretend they are, as we put in our late hours to be able to buy organic tomatoes, only to spend the weekend partying or vegging out, recovering from the burnout of the workweek.
I think that in the words of Paul Simon, we often mistake value for the price, seeking out bad advice. We, myself included, often forget that the life we lead is pretty easy: we need to drink water, eat food, sleep, breathe oxygen, shit, and love, and not do all of those in the same place. We live in a region with a giant reservoir of fresh water, a climate and soil fairly amenable to growing food, and nights cool enough to sleep in.
And yet, we make it difficult. While we no longer dump raw sewage directly into our drinking water, we do spray Round-Up on our lawns and, yes, on our prairie restorations, letting the glyphosate run through our forest preserves, parks, and croplands. We rarely let one another starve, but we are content to see our agricultural land eaten up by concrete and good produce sold at exorbitant prices, keeping the vast majority of people from having reasonable access to quality food.
The result of our collective actions, or refusal to act? My generation will be one of a very few in human history with a shorter life expectancy than our parents. And as for the food, the pollution, the day to day injustices of some relatively rich people being allowed to spew glyphosate into our waters and carbon into our atmosphere?
Young people see that, and they see an unfair power dynamic at work as well as at play in our society. Too often, we grow up to emulate it–in a way, the abused becoming the abuser. Instead of prosecuting predatory capitalism, though, we encourage the vicious cycle, tending to
the argument that this system has lifted billions out of poverty–without realizing or acknowledging that in its twisted logic, riches hinge on scarcity, ensuring the existence of the poverty condition.
As far as what this all has to do with working on a farm? In some small way, it’s my commitment to a straightforward logic, which rewards wealth and abundance and not scarcity and miserliness. It’s my commitment to living my life, at least in my eyes, correctly, relying not on leveraging capital and cash for windfalls, but on my own wits and hard work to the extent that I can.
Today, we spent hours picking summer squash and cucumbers under a hot and oppressively humid sun. Kneeling at the end of the first bed, I saw a vulture, swooping through thermals taking him places he’d perhaps not intended, his wings to weak to change his own course. Riding my bike home, exhausted, a brilliant yellow hummingbird flies north across the farm driveway. I ride back, grateful for the tailwind out of the north.