It’s 1950. It’s the Midwest.
It’s the breadbasket of the world.
Farming is a way life.
The world of agriculture us changing. It’s going from conventional to chemical. The Green Revolution iss here.
Chemical and seed technology are evolving each year.
Do you adopt that technology or not?
And you can’t answer as a person of 2016. You can’t use the context of today, to think about this.
Remember, it’s 1950. There’s no internet.
Education comes by the way of farm papers, library books, local universities, and salesman giving educational classes.
Compared to today information was compartmentalized. It was limited, and maybe biased in one particular direction.
Also, consider your level of knowledge. You may have had a university education, but more likely than not, it was high school only.
So when a salesman first comes into town promising to double your yields, what do you do?
Buy the spray and use it, or say no.
And if you say, no, why are you saying no?
Again, it’s 1950. And we are entering the chemicals age. All sorts of wonder chemicals are showing up. Many of them make like easier. And many of them are being directed at agriculture.
The average yield per acre for corn in 1950 was about 35 bushels per acre. And it had been that way for the past 80 years. Chemical technology promises to increase that yield.
Farming’s hard. It always has been, and in 1950 it was no different. And now there is promise to increase your yields your yields by applying some chemicals. No real extra work required.
You are supporting a family. Extra yield means extra money. Things are tight as they always have been for farmers, wouldn’t that extra yield really help.
What do you do?
And if you said no in 1950, would you still say no in 1960, when more and more of your neighbors converted over to chemical based agriculture. Where the use of pesticides, fertilizers and high yielding varieties pushed the average farm yield up, way above what you are yielding.
And if you were still holding in 1970 when yields were at 80 bushels an acre what would you do, or in 1980 when yields had jumped to 110 bushels per acre?
When the world is changing around you, the only world that you have ever known, what would you do?
And what would you do if you didn’t think that those changes were right?
Let’s find out from someone who lived through that exact situation.
An 83 year old farmer in Ohio, a fourth generation farmer, who began his farming career in 1950 when the world was changing around him…
Earlier this week I got chatting with an 82 year old farmer named Vincent.
He’s a 50 year farming veteran who is still actively farming 1200 acres in Ohio. He’s a fourth generation farmer and the gateway to the fifth generation.
We got to talking about how he was still going strong on the farm, and how he was still heavily involved in the day to day operations. He wasn’t hanging it up anytime soon. In fact he was actively looking to expand the farm’s operations.
He was just embarking on a big project to add some infrastructure to the farm to make his farm more efficient. The project wasn’t cheap, it would take about a year to complete, and many more years to see a return on investment. But Vincent was thinking long term, trying to keep the farm relevant and resilient so it stayed in the family. At 82 he wasn’t stepping away from the business anytime soon.
As we are chatting and I am getting my mind blown a bit by his work ethic and his drive. Why was he still farming at 82? And by farming we aren’t talking about casually driving the tractor around for an hour farming, this guy was in beast mode most days. Not so common for your average 82 year old in a world that encourages you to retire in your early sixties.
What had driven him to keep going twenty years beyond that? It wasn’t money. He didn’t have to keep farming to survive and pay bills. He could have easily mailed it in long ago and moved to Florida to play shuffleboard. It was clearly something else.
“I love what I do. It’s all that I have ever done, it’s all that I know. I am a fourth generation farmer, it’s in my blood. I love it. I love the idea of building soil. I love farming.“
The tone of his voice conveyed this sentiment more than the words themselves.
It was very clear that farming was who he was.
I started thinking about that because I don’t really come across many people who are this enthusiastic about what they do AND have this type of longevity doing it. Allan Savory and Rosemary Morrow immediately come to mind, but in general it’s really pretty rare.
Now sitting here at the comfort of my desk, I am thinking about the challenges that Vincent must have faced through the years. BIG CHALLENGES.
Here was someone that has seen the world of agriculture change completely since he started farming 50 years ago. Seed technology has changed. The chemical companies have dramatically increased their presence. Farm equipment has changed. The climate has changed. The soil has changed. Beans have washed out, corn has dried out. There have been record harvests and miserable harvests. Great years and terrible years (extra emphasis on terrible). Over the years he has taken on tremendous challenges to adapt to the changing agriculture landscape. Yet despite it all, he has stood resilient like an old oak tree – bending and swaying with the wind, but never breaking. Dropping leaves each fall to start new each spring. And still slowly growing each year despite what was happening in the world around him.
In the face of all of these challenges, he worked hard and he built equity, he built wealth, some of which is monetary, but much of which isn’t. He won’t tell you that he is a rich man, but he will tell you that he lived a rich life. He lived the life he wanted to live. He lived what he was. He did what was in his blood.
That’s what I took away from Vincent.
Vincent is tough. Vincent is hard core. He is all in. And he has had a great life as a result.
I think that these traits are becoming increasingly rare in modern day society – being hard, being tough. No more. It’s sad. We are becoming weak.
I see it in myself sometimes (sitting at my comfortable desk). When did the toughness get bred out? We are only two generations away from a group of people whose lives were exponentially more challenging than ours and we are two generations away from a group of people that were tremendously more resilient that we are. Damn. WTF.
I think about Vincent saying that farming is in his blood. That’s a powerful idea and that got me thinking. What’s in my blood? (What’s in your blood? Ask yourself that? If you know, are you doing it?)
When I look at my life, what’s in my blood is this idea that you go to school, get a good job, work, buy, consume, repeat, die. You work hard, but you work hard for someone else.
But that’s how a lot of us were raised. We were taught to go to school, get good grades, go to college, and then get a “great job”. And for much of the US economy that job doesn’t mean jack. That job could disappear tomorrow and the world wouldn’t blink. I know that first hand… I currently have one of those jobs (meaning my 9 to 5, not Permaculture Voices). The company, the world, wouldn’t miss a blip if I didn’t show up for that job tomorrow. And if you have a job that falls into that category, and it doesn’t have meaning to you, then why the heck keep doing it? That’s what I have asked myself. That’s why I am trying to change. I have come to the realization that if society doesn’t care and you don’t care, what’s the point? There isn’t one. But despite that we keep doing it. That’s the society that we live in.
We do jobs that no one cares about because we need to do something. And maybe that is why I, and much of my generation, have had so much trouble adapting in today’s world. And I don’t say trouble adapting lightly. It’s a huge problem. The old model isn’t working anymore. The idea doesn’t resonate. The story that we were told is no longer true.
We were taught everything about how great capitalism is, and how well it works, except how to successfully succeed within it without just being a consumer and a worker. We weren’t taught or shown how to be tough, how to be resilient, how to produce, or how to find and go after what’s in our blood; not just for us, but for the betterment of society.
Instead we were taught to consume, to spend. Spending is good for the economy after all, right? We were taught to follow instructions, to get in line, to use a #2 pencil on scantrons, and choose A, B, C, or D. We were all given trophies for just showing up. Now 20 years later the results are pathetic, and many of our lives are as frail as those cheap ass plastic trophies that we got as kids. What a waste.
It’s a mess. It isn’t working.
I know isn’t not, because if it was working then we wouldn’t have a massive group of 20, 30, and 40 year olds struggling to hold jobs and find real meaning in their lives. That’s the problem. There is no meaning in the work.* It’s not the act of work. I don’t think that this group of people is adverse to work. I think they want to work hard. I just think that they don’t want to work hard doing bullshit jobs. Who can blame them?
If your job adds no meaningful value to society then what is the point? There isn’t one. But sadly our economy is chock full of those jobs – sorry financial analysts, lobbyists, telemarketers, and gossip reporters. Bullshit.
I think there is a generation of people starving for meaning in their work – meaningful work that might not be prestigious on the surface or start you out with a great salary, a nice office, a path up the corporate ladder if you “work hard”, and two weeks of vacation time after your first year (hooray!). Truly meaningful work. Work that pays off over the course of a lifetime with an abundant yield of happiness and personal fulfillment. Work that we are still doing at age 82. Work that’s in our blood.
It’s tough to find that work because we have been bred to just fall in line with the system. So many people, me included, struggle to even figure out what is meaningful to them. Personally, I have been on a multi-year journey of bloodletting to purge out what I was fed and find work that is who I am. I am not sure where that journey will end up, but I am sure it won’t end up in a cubicle with me wearing a tie.
I have something pretty strong inside me rebelling against this idea of being the corporate man. Me and “working for the man” has never really sat right with me. It’s made me bitter, it’s made me soft. It’s made me give up a lot of who I am, for someone else. As result I am actively trying to change that in my own life. I am trying to step outside of the corporate machine and carve my own way, establish my own legacy, and hopefully inspire my daughters to follow in my footsteps. They don’t have to do exactly what I am doing, but I want them to know that it’s possible and OK to follow their own path, to create their own destiny. I want them to be tough, to be resilient.
I want us all to be tougher and more resilient. To do our work. This is what Permaculture Voices has really become – a tool to help you do your work, a guide to help you navigate the journey and succeed at your work, and the kick in the ass to help you stick with it through the journey.
I want to inspire more people to follow their own path. That’s why I am writing these emails. That’s why I put out the podcast. That’s why I will continue with PV3. I am digging my heals in and saying fuck this bullshit, let’s create a ruckus and change things. Enough is enough. The old way isn’t working. Let’s create something together, something better because I dream of a society where people swim upstream with purposeful direction instead of just aimlessly floating downstream. Where people can control their own destiny and clean their blood from the corporate bullshit that we have been fed. Where people are tough. Where people are resilient. Where people are like Vincent.
Maybe I am an idealist. Maybe. But it feels good.
And in 47 years when someone interviews me, I will tell them yeah I’ve been through a lot, and it wasn’t always easy, but I loved it, and I’m still doing it… because it’s in my blood.
What about you?
Let me know. Leave a comment below.