Friends with Benefits
I was talking on the phone with my friend Dean the other day, and he asked how the farm was going. I told him that it was great, and it’s looking like we will at least break even and make all of our bills for the year. His response was a bit tepid. “Whoa, break even? That doesn’t sound so good, buddy…” I explained to Dean that, from our perspective and the timeline we’re working with this season, this is indeed quite good. Besides, I told him, nobody goes into organic farming to make a killing; we’re doing it because we enjoy it and believe in it, and if we can live to farm another day, we’ll be happy. I think he understood, to some extent.
The fact is that Dean is a little older than I, has a couple of kids, and operates under an entirely different frame of reference regarding success. Holding a long-term, high-level sales position, Dean makes more money than I would ever know what to do with, and admits that he could retire most anytime and be pretty well set on essentials for life. However, he has also lamented quite regularly about the constant stress of his position — sleepless nights, constant feelings of inadequacy, hospital visits – and admits openly that, while lucrative, his job is costing him a lot in terms of serenity and probably years of life. While I’m sure he’s probably got a fine benefits package, I’m equally sure that, given the state of constant stress, he probably needs it.
All that being said, I have a great deal of respect for Dean, his mindset, and his wisdom. We are simply working out of drastically different contexts. The last three jobs I’ve taken have each paid progressively less; offering much more in the departments of self-actuality, cognitive stimulation and fruitful relationships. In these regards, farming takes the cake. Almost every time I finish work and start driving to the farm, I longingly wish I could just go home and call it a day. “I’ll just get there and do some fieldwork by myself…” I often think.
However, almost without exception, I arrive and remember that the people I’m working with are dear friends doing work that I love dearly, and jump immediately into enjoyable conversation. While there, I get to experience things like Danny W. standing up emphatically from his crouch over the bean bed and declaring, “You can do anything you want to. Yeah, you can do anything.” before trying to pop a bean into his mouth, failing, and watching it tumble helplessly to the ground; mouth stoic and unacknowledging beneath his heavy moustache.
I get to experience things like pack-shed renovation with Oren: cutting and drilling together a bunch of studs that turn out ½ inch short; scratching our heads and stroking our beards while deciding how to bridge the gap. Three-hour mornings of work shorten to two, as at least 1/3 of our time is spent munching Main Grain pastries, engaged in all-encompassing explorations of the basis of racism, the challenges of long-term relationships, and the vices and virtues of formal education. This carries on until one of us snaps back to enough to pick up a pencil or drill, resuming the project until another topic carries us away.
Then there’s the food itself. I get to experience things like delivering a crate of beautiful heirloom tomatoes to my Aunt Cheryl, getting an impromptu tour of their alpaca shed, and leaving with 2 dozen of the best eggs money can’t buy, along with a random bag of freshly-shaven alpaca wool for who-knows-what. I get to experience a weekly box of seasonal bounty, plus crates and crates of leftovers, at no cost other than all of my free time. I get to experience hours and hours in the kitchen: batch-freezing pesto, blanching and freezing green beans, and preparing for a mass tomato-canning session — knowing that, come winter, I will thank my summertime self for the foresight and motivation.
It just feels good; it’s as simple as that. No gym membership can provide the functional strength that the farm requires; no benefits package can touch the preventative care of clean vegetable production and consumption; no counselor or psychologist can reset the depressed mind like the fresh air and conversation of harvest days. In my view, the land is secondary; the vegetables are secondary; the loan payments are secondary. Ultimately, we’re buying and spending time together, becoming the best versions of ourselves that we could hope to be. Those are the benefits. What more could we ask for?