Jerry Nelson: It's time to get a hobby

Jerry Nelson
Special to the Farm Forum
Image of the author.

When asked if I have any hobbies, I do my best to come up with a creative reply that satisfies the questioner without actually providing an answer. What I do is sort of a hobby.

I’ve always thought of a hobby as an activity that one enjoys without any thought as to whether or not the activity makes money.

By this definition, there were several years during my farming career when my farming operation was a hobby.

I have dipped my toe in several hobbies over the years but stuck with none of them. My toe is like a honeybee flitting from flower to flower.

There once was a time when I was into skydiving. Plunging from an airplane that’s 5,000 feet above the surface of the planet is every bit as terrifying as you might imagine. But the incandescent adrenaline rush is powerful enough to light up a small city.

Skydiving here, in the Midwest, can be problematic.

For starters, it’s not much fun to leap out of an airplane that’s screaming along at 100 MPH when the ambient air temperature is below freezing. You would be a human popsicle by the time you reached the ground.

Few experiences match the excitement of jumping out of a plane thousands of feet above the earth.

That alone eliminates about nine months of the year. But there’s also the wind. You can’t skydive when it’s too windy.

Add in visibility requirements and you’re looking at approximately 1.5 perfect skydiving days per year. This is not a great situation for someone who, like me, needs countless hours of practice to master a new skill.

Beer is one of my favorite fluids. Some years ago, I decided to launch myself into homebrewing. I was motivated not only by thriftiness but also because the so-called “mainstream” beers taste like sudsy water from a stream. Those beers have zero personality.

Brewing beer is a persnickety process. You have to keep everything totally sterile, or you could wind up with something that resembles fizzy vinegar. But you force the stuff down anyway because your wife was none too happy about all that money you spent on homebrewing equipment.

Microbreweries then began to spring up all over the place, like toadstools after a summer thunderstorm. It now takes minimal effort to find excellent beers and brewskis that have personalities larger than Lady Gaga.

Choosing from a large variety quality beers at the store is infinitely easier than making beer in the basement. My homebrewing equipment is gathering dust.

But that wasn’t my only foray into fermentation. I have also made wine in a process that went all the way from grapes to glass.

Farmstead wineries then began to pop up all over the countryside. One such winery is located just four miles from our farm. They make terrific wines there, so that’s where we go when we want to enjoy some vino.

Plus, I don’t have to explain to my wife why my socks have turned purple.

Cars have always fascinated me. I am especially fond of the cars that were made in the 1950s and 1960s, an era when Detroit’s attitude was, “You know what would make this car better? More steel! And you know what would make it even better than that? More horsepower!”

I have a soft spot for 1957 Chevrolets. It’s a scientific fact that the ’57 Chevy is one of the coolest cars ever made.

As I was driving around in the country recently, I espied a ‘57 Chevy sitting in the weeds on an abandoned farmstead. My brain was instantly flooded with a fantasy that involved purchasing the car for cheap and lovingly restoring it to mint condition.

I was deterred not at all by the fact that I have zero experience with accomplishing a task that would be on par with refurbishing the Queen Mary.

Before I made a commitment that would likely put a tremendous strain on my checkbook and my marriage, I chatted with a guy who is a classic car fixer upper.      

“Have you ever done any body repair?” he asked.


“Have you ever replaced a headliner or reupholstered seats?”


“Have you ever done any automotive mechanical work?”

“Well, when I was a teenager I helped a buddy overhaul his car’s engine,” I replied. “But I mostly just watched and handed him the tools while he did the work.”

The car guy shook his head. “You’d be better off buying a car that’s already restored. It would be a lot easier and cheaper.”

“So, you’re saying that it would be similar to buying beer or wine?”

The car guy shot me a look.

“You’re an odd one,” he said. “You should really get a hobby.”

If you'd like to contact Jerry Nelson to do some public speaking, or just to register your comments, you can email him at His book, “Dear County Agent Guy,” is available at and at booksellers everywhere.