The Planted Row: Finding the joy in hard work

Farm Forum

This week I took a call from a reader, and as we chatted about various issues in the agricultural world, we touched on the seeming scarcity of young people willing to perform farm work. This reader said, “If you asked parents at a high school graduation, I’d bet 98 percent of them would say they hoped their child was going to college. We have denied an entire generation the joy of work.” There’s two ideas conveyed in that statement, and I’d like to address the one nearest to my heart first.

The joy of work. For some people it might seem like a contradiction in terms. After all, how can work be joyful? Isn’t that why it’s called work and not play?

This is the position taken by my wife. When we visit my family’s farm, I usually disappear from the house to help my father and sister with some farm chore. She doesn’t understand why we take a vacation as a family and I spend a large portion of it working. I tell her that working is how my family spends time together, but I don’t think she really understands that.

I’ll be honest and say that not every farm chore fills me with excitement, but I reap some benefit from even the most distasteful chores. If I’m working with other members of my family, we tell stories, tell jokes, and tease each other while working. The work itself facilitates social interaction, and it brings me closer to my family. If I’m not working near family members, I feel satisfaction in knowing that I am completing a job they won’t have to bother with. I’m helping. I’m saving them steps and making their lives easier, and that knowledge makes me feel good.

Regardless of whether I’m working alone or with others, I receive a great satisfaction once my farm chore is completed. Few things in life compare to the feeling I get when I look back over a clean field or a newly installed irrigation system at sunset and think, “I did that, and because I did that, we’re going to grow more food.” Accomplishment achieved through hard work is often the best reward I could ask for.

This brings me to the other idea expressed in the reader’s comment — the idea that sending kids to college robs them of the joys that come from work. I’m a big fan of a college education, but that’s because I value knowledge for its own sake. There are plenty of people who went to college and then came back home to farm. My father was one of them. I think a college education, regardless of the major, makes people better farmers. A good education forces people to question ideas they previously never questioned. A good education teaches people to never stop learning. A good education teaches farmers to never stop trying new things in order to improve their operations.

That being said, nothing I ever achieved in college or my professional life as an editor ever gave me the sense of accomplishment that a productive day on the farm gives me. When I was in college, every time I came home, after about 10 minutes of visiting around the kitchen table, my grandfather would say, “I’ve got a little job I want you to help me with.” My grandmother often complained. She would say, “He comes home to visit us, and all you do is put him to work.” However, those “little jobs” were some of the best times I ever spent with my grandfather. I loved to hear him ask for my help. When we finished up our work and looked over what we accomplished, we knew the land or the farm was a little bit better because of our efforts. Nothing I’ve read, written, edited or published ever made me feel the same way.

If you’re in college or stuck in an office building and feel like something is missing in your life, do yourself a favor. Seek out the joy of work.