Perhaps there was good fortune in being the son of a farmer’s daughter. There was never an expectation that I would ever be involved in the life of the farm. I am unlike my uncles’ sons and grandsons who have continued the generations’ long family tradition, raising livestock and growing crops, and working far harder than I have ever done.
When I was young, I often wondered why people became farmers. It was a constantly demanding life: long days, hard work, all weathers, little money. What was it that kept people on the land?
Perhaps the explanation provided by one of my uncles for the family tradition of farming is applicable to many other farming families, “just enough money to hold on, never enough to move on.”
Perhaps farming was a matter of necessity. Perhaps there were times when it was the least worst option. Perhaps those raised to farm were never given the opportunity to train for any other occupation. Perhaps the expectation from parents and the wider family was such that people felt that becoming a farmer was the only way in which they could fulfil what they believed to be their duty. Perhaps many farmers never thought about it, farming was what they did, so they just got on with it.
Perhaps the list of reasons I have imagined for being a farmer are negative because I am not a farmer.
A friend who farms in Ireland talks about the magic of moments during the farming year. He talks of frosty winter nights during the lambing season and looking up at the star-filled sky at 5am, when daylight is still hours away and when there is silence across the landscape. He talks of the delight in watching the spring season unfold, day by day. Perhaps it is in seeing farming life through eyes such as his that the decision to become a farmer seems more comprehensible. Perhaps there is a beauty and a range of sensory experiences that can only be appreciated by those living them in a cyclical seasonal way.
Perhaps there is something else, though, something that is hard to articulate. It is about being connected to the land and being connected with one’s forebears and descendants. Farming is the only life that provides such an absolute sense of continuity and tactile, tangible sense of connection. It means being able to stand at a gate, “This is my land. My people made this land as it is. This is my legacy to my children and their legacy to their children.”
Being a farmer means leaving something that endures long after everything else has faded away.
It also means standing in a tradition that creates a sense of place for those who, like me, never ever get their hands dirty.