Homesteading, farming, and green beans.
The revelation came to me yesterday afternoon, while Diane and I were picking beans.
As always happens when I'm in the bean patch, my mind wandered back to the time about 40 years ago when I was a migrant laborer, picking beans in California.
That kind of work seemed well-suited to a young, aspiring writer. It was an adventure. And a few years earlier, working with migrants at a Wisconsin pea cannery, I earned over $100 a week for the first time in my life. No matter that the pay was 75[cents] an hour and we worked as many as 22 hours a day: With gas at 21[cents] a gallon, $100 a week was a princely sum!
In the California bean fields, however, I didn't make enough to pay for the bread and peanut butter I was living on.
Pea harvesting has been modernized. No one does the kind of back-breaking work I did in the 50s, and I doubt that the government even allows employees to work 22 hours a day, now. Bean harvesting has probably undergone modernization too.
"And yet," I thought, "here I am... much older and hopefully wiser, with a career and more possessions than I need... and I'm still picking beans!"
You couldn't pay me to do this. So why am I out here after a long day in the office, doing it for nothing?
The easy answer is that I'm crazy. Anybody who plants, cultivates, harvests and processes his own green beans when he could handily buy them canned or frozen with the proceeds of a few minutes of work at a computer simply has no sense of economics.
But anyone who thinks like that doesn't understand what homesteading is all about... which might be why they equate it with farming.
There are several kinds of farming, but all of them involve more than raising crops or animals. They involve attitudes.
Today's farmer is a businessman. Most real farmers bristle if you even hint that farming is a way of life, or if you bring up any other nostalgic or sentimental images. I think quite a few kid themselves, but in public they want to be regarded in the same light as shop and factory owners.
Agribusiness employs vast acreages, huge machines, capital and technology, and individual farms depend on just one or a few crops. "Real" farms don't have pigs or chickens for home use, and often not even a garden. Moreover, wheat farmers sell their grain wholesale and buy bread at retail; dairy farmers sell milk and buy cheese and butter and ice cream.
There's nothing wrong with that. In most cases it's necessary, if the farm business is to survive in today's world. But it has nothing to do with homesteading.
On the other hand, until the mid-50s, most farms were very much like today's homesteads - on the surface. I wanted to be a farmer myself, back then. But the rapid rise of tractors, chemicals, and big farming didn't match my ideals. I decided to become a journalist, and "farm" - according to my own specifications- on the side.
My model was my uncle's farm. He and his large family milked a few cows (by hand, of course.) They raised a few pigs, for their own table, mostly. They had chickens, for meat and eggs. They had a huge garden.
They farmed with horses, pumped water by hand, cut their own wood for cooking and heating.
They made butter and cheese, butchered and preserved their own meat, and put up their own fruits and vegetables.
For them, farming was as much, if not more, a way of life than a business, and they approached it with that attitude. However, while that way of life appeals to me, that still doesn't tell the whole story.
You can say that that way of life is dead, or that modern farmers have it so much easier it would be ridiculous to want to "go back." But for me, that's all irrelevant. The "farming" isn't the important part of the lifestyle, nor is the hard work and supposed deprivation.
I've seen both kinds of farming. I know what it's like to spend hours on a tractor. Take hogs to market, wondering if they'll bring enough to cover expenses. Watch cattle, corn and soybean markets, and the weather, all of which affected my profit.
And I know what it's like to "farm" the way my ancestors did, even though I had to do it in addition to working in an office. The goal wasn't to make a profit, but it wasn't just a hobby, either. It was a good way to live.
However, neither type of farming qualifies as homesteading.
Yes, homesteading does involve caring for crops and animals. And yes, it's a way of life... but not simply in the old-fashioned sense.
Today, homesteading is a way of life that counterbalances many of our economic, social, environmental and technological concerns.
To me, it's all very clear.
And that's why I continue to pick beans, beyond the sidewalks.
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|Title Annotation:||there is a difference between homesteading and farming|
|Publication:||Countryside & Small Stock Journal|
|Date:||Nov 1, 1996|
|Previous Article:||The shadow of Shasha.|
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