This was a scene from yesterday.
I thought to myself, “Look at my inspiring, lovely farming career.”
And I laughed. A genuine laugh of being tickled at how strange and messy my life as a farmer can be.
I was covered in mud, crawling on pavement to roll up the landscape fabric I mindlessly burned holes in for the last hour in the wind and rain. I previously had been crawling in the mud trying to secure some tarps with my husband and friend. Before that we had stuffed my irrigation and field equipment into my van before driving it out to the field, praying we wouldn’t get stuck. Oh and we moved a lot of stuff around. It was cold, wet, windy, and very dirty.
See how glamorous?
I laughed because I didn’t care. Sure, I didn’t enjoy getting buffeted by the wind. I certainly didn’t enjoy cleaning up the equipment that had been chewed on by rodents. Smelling roses was infinitely better than burning plastic, but burning holes in landscape fabric was a part of my job that day. My husband worked half the day and when I came home and recapped the rest of my day, I recognized that despite working hard and being entirely filthy, I was still energetic and speaking lively about the most mundane, gross things (lucky him).
Because it was spring again and the world was waking up again and I was so alive.
A great deal of farming is pure drudgery: repetitive, hard, and often messy work. But when we farmers get together, we will admit a certain, strange joy and meditation in it all. Of course we get tired and of course we have our “Mondays” that we dread, but we wouldn’t do it for just the beauty. We do it for the hard work too.
There are obvious rewards in my work. The blooming flowers. The butterflies and hummingbirds. The clear, perfect sunny days that just feel delicious. The look on people’s faces at market—child and adult alike—of pure, unconscious joy when they look at the flowers.
But then there are other rewards, less digestible on an Instagram feed. Plunging my hands into moist soil. Feeling sore when I go to bed. Free streaming sweat with no judgement of sweat stains. Pushing my body during hard work so it feels like it sings.
Part of the reason you see this less is because its hard to photograph—its a little hard to whip out my iPhone while moving a 100 pound wheelbarrow of wet compost. But its also because farmers are a bit afraid to buck the bucolic trend: show people the beauty, the sweet and tender, the interesting, and occasionally a sad tale of struggle (but not too many!). But never show people the grit.
In the flower farmer world, I feel this particularly, and am sometimes envious of my veggie growing brethren who I believe have more leeway in this. People seem to give them more respect for the grit and being more mixed gender community, its less precious than the flower world.
I think because flower farmers are tied to such beautiful, delicate farm product, that somehow people like to envision us wearing beige linen dresses, slowly walking through fields of wildflowers with a basket in one hand, pruners in the other. You think I’m exaggerating, but I can tell by people’s questions about the farm that sometimes this is not far from their dreamscapes.
I saw a somewhat famous flower farmer speak at a conference once and she said “People want to see the glitter. They don’t want to see a tired, grumpy, dirty farmer with bags under their eyes. Go inside, change, even put on some makeup and go back out and shoot the photo. Then go back to work. They want glitter. Give them the glitter.”
I found this statement filled me with an odd mix of rage, shame, guilt, questioning, stubbornness, and rage again.
Rage at giving people a staged, if beautiful lie.
Shame because I was not really doing what she instructed (and I generally look like mud-pie from Peanuts on a regular basis).
Guilt because this farmer speaking was very successful—didn’t I owe it to myself and my company to take advice to better succeed?
Questioning because how divorced were people from the land if they had forgotten that farming is a dirty, difficult work?
Stubbornness because I believed we as a culture had entered a new era of agriculture and I believed that people could appreciate the beauty along with the hard work.
Rage again because I didn’t become a farmer to wear damn makeup to work.
And who the hell actually likes glitter? It just makes an annoying, unnecessary mess.
So I try to strike a balance: show people the gorgeous, but also show them the strange and unusual, the hilarious, the tender-hearted.
And show them some grit.
Is there inherent harm in letting people have a less than accurate vision of flower farming? Yes and no. On the one hand, I understand entirely that the world can be a frightening, messy, and depressing place. Taking in some beauty for a few hours lifts the spirit. I do believe beauty can heal. The problem is when that beauty is used as an insulated cocoon, creating a false shelter to the point where people become blinded about what agriculture—and the world at large—is really like. I also deeply worry that by us farmers manufacturing scenes of blissful blooming bounty that people undervalue our work. Isn’t living our pastoral, peaceful lives surrounded by such bounty payment enough?
No it is not because sadly that doesn’t pay the bills. In the flower world we like to say “flowers put food on the table too”—meaning, there’s hard work that translates into the economy just as much as edible agriculture.
Lastly, if we only show the beauty, we also miss the opportunity to share our true, secret farmer love: the work.
So consider this post from the gritty side of my work and life. Enjoy and I’ll go back to the mud now.