“Farming is the first rung on the ladder of a functioning world.” —Arjun Basu in Waiting for the Man
For no reason I can explain I dreamed about Murray McLauchlan one night this week. In a vivid technicolour dream that stayed with me even upon waking, McLauchlan crooned an unidentifiable musical tune to me and then drove away in a dented old Chevy pick-up.
I would never describe myself as a diehard fan of his. I had not thought about him in a long time. Why on earth did he pop up in my dream? I did a Google search, and the first link (after Wikipedia, of course) was “The Farmer Song.” Always one to follow signposts, I decided I needed to write about farmers.
I grew up on a farm—zero degrees of separation away from food sources. Our carrots and beans sprouted in our large garden, our meat sources pecked seeds in the barnyard or oinked in their pens, and our milk delivery systems chewed their cud in pastures outside our windows. Few things in this world beat the taste of a carrot plucked right from the soil, or the sound of milk spray striking the metal side of a milk pail, of the sight of cream rising to the top of that frothy pail of fresh milk.
Because I grew up so close to the soil and the animals, I have me an appreciation for the work involved in cultivating our food and for the people who do that hard work. As the number of degrees of separation grows between the consumers of food and the cultivators of food, that appreciation dwindles. In our increasingly urban society, where the people who eat our food never come in contact with the source of it or don’t understand the work involved in nurturing it, it is easy to take food for granted.
When a minister friend of mine (who also grew up on a farm) led a children’s time discussion at his church, he was shocked when none of the children in the circle around him had ever seen a cow standing in the shade of a tree. Some of them had never seen a cow, never mind one under a tree.
Arjun Basu describes farming as “the first rung on the ladder of a functioning world.” The first rung. In other words, before we can climb any higher or do anything else, we must begin with the soil. We must be fed.
It’s summer here in Canada. The strands of wheat and barley in our fields wave in the breeze, and the corn stalks reach for the sun. Local berries, fruit and vegetables ripen on the vine. Spring-born calves grow bigger every day and will soon be weaned from their mothers. Chicks, who have long since lost their yellow downy fuzz, flap their wings and squawk at scattered seeds. Men with calloused hands and dirt-stained fingernails squint their eyes and survey their fields. Women swing up into the driver’s seat of tractors and make their way to the back forty. Children wander into the garden, bend and pluck a carrot from the soil. They brush off the dirt and take a big bite, and there’s nothing like it.
When you eat dinner tonight, thank a farmer.