“Are you sure you just want to farm? Don’t you want to do something more with your life?” These were the questions posed to me in high school by my well-meaning teachers when I had declared that I was going to farm with my family after graduation. In their eyes, I was wasting my talents by staying on the farm I grew up on.
For generations, this has been a fostered attitude here in the country; you grow up, move to the city as soon as you can, get an education so that you can get a good paying job and you’ll be much happier than living out here in “the sticks.” There isn’t a whole lot of encouragement or support given to anyone with aspirations of staying. Sadly, this attitude for decades has meant the decimation of our small communities and reliance upon large, urban centres.
Not that there was anything wrong with those who did choose to move away and pursue their dreams elsewhere. Their talents and abilities are certainly cherished and needed in this world. I am just hoping that this is what they actually wanted, and that they weren’t left feeling empty, or somehow abandoned by the life and the land that they knew; because it seems that when our children are being guided into their careers, especially by the school system, it often comes down to “coulds” and “shoulds” rather than “wants” and “callings”.
With this trend of small-town families encouraging their children to go live a “better life elsewhere”, I can’t help but wonder if those people couldn’t see the treasures they had in front of them? And I wonder how many of these children did indeed feel happier in the city, or away from their homeland? Away from the land?
My own parents experienced the same questions from their teachers as I had from mine; “But you’re too smart to farm, you could be anything you want”, was what my mother was told. In other words, “Only idiots stay here and farm, go make something of yourself.” This comment implied the sentiment that so many have carried for so long; that you don’t have to be very smart to farm, so it is what you do if you aren’t capable of anything “greater”. This attitude diminishes the great skill and determination involved in farming, and the incredible value of farming to our community.
So, my parents did give a life in the city a try. It lasted about a year, and in that time they found themselves so miserable and longing for the farm that they moved home to the farm and never looked back. Needless to say, my mother’s impeccable book-keeping abilities, coupled with her and my father’s building and fixing skills, work ethic, love and knowledge of the natural world, and pioneering spirit, have all served them well as self-employed farmers. Fortunately, they both came from farming families who encouraged rather than discouraged them.
Farming requires all kinds of skills, talents, and abilities, most of which cannot be learned from a book. Something that I have noticed that sets many farmers apart from many others is the accuracy of their intuition. Farming is a spiritual practice that one must feel — and there is really no teacher like experience.
Choosing a Way of Life
My parents chose to farm for the exact reasons that I chose to farm; it allows a way of life that I wanted to have for both myself and my children.
I cringe when I hear people speak of their gruelling commutes to get to work every day. The stress of traffic and the time that they are losing out on their days must wear on their entire beings. I enjoy a short, winding, half-minute drive through the trees to reach my destination, and it is a pure joy at all times of the year to either drive, walk, or bike. And the only traffic I meet is another family member or else a chattering red squirrel.
Every day is “take your kids to work day”, and school is often skipped so that valuable lessons at home can be focused upon. The teachers in our small-town school have come to understand that the Klassen kids will never set any records for attendance (but quite possibly for non-attendance). I have come to realize that we are engaging in a sort of combination of public/home-schooling, and with their good marks in school, I feel we are enjoying the best of both worlds.
Country living provides fresh air for my family to breathe, clean water to drink, a chance to grow nutritious food or pick it from the wild, and a safe environment for my kids to run free, explore and connect with Nature while learning about themselves.
No two days on the farm are ever alike, as our chores are always shifting with the seasons. I get to keep company with the kindest of creatures, and my co-workers are also my furry, faithful companions who guard my yard (mostly chickens) from predators.
When I was 19 I went to work for a local seed dealer for a seasonal spring job. It lasted two months, and in this short time I learned the valuable lesson of how good I had it at home, working with those who love and care for me and would never take advantage of my work ethic. I also learned how much I missed the kind-hearted cattle and the land I grew up on, and I learned that they had missed me as well. I learned that I would always do whatever it takes to stay on this land and be my own boss, and treat my own children with the same kindness and respect that my parents had treated me.
I remember one such comment from my boss one day which really made me realize how soul-depleting it can be to work for someone who only looks at you with dollar value. I was shovelling grain, and it was a hot, dusty job. He laughed at me and said, “I bet you’re wishing now that you went off to college, hey?”
I didn’t reply. What was the point? How could I explain that I really didn’t mind shovelling my own grain, or the grain of my family, grown on our land, with others who appreciate me.
This seed dealer looked at everything and everyone as a business. There was no soul connection to the land or to others, and he was only happy if he knew he had gotten every ounce of work out of you that he could.
I was also fortunate to find a partner who enjoys this way of life as much as I do. But having said that, when we set our standards and know exactly what we want, we naturally attract those who feel the same, so it’s probably not just a matter of fortune. He loves living “out in the sticks” and understands that quality time spent together is often time spent working together. You learn to take what you can get! But when you love what you do, it seldom feels like work.
As a farmer, it is impossible to schedule holidays, and so one has to learn the art of flexibility and embracing opportunities as they arise.
While life in the country, especially on a farm, certainly has its challenges, I have found that the rewards far outweigh them. While we have to work in all kinds of weather, and have had days where we are literally covered in manure, there is great beauty in being in constant connection and rhythm with Nature. I feel the sun rise every day, in the summer months when it is strong, and in the winter when it is subtle. Every evening as I make supper, I can watch it sink into the landscape.
When I do go into our small town, which thankfully has survived recent trends and still has a school and other businesses, I am greeted with smiles and pleasant conversation. It only takes one trip to the city and an encounter with a surly salesperson who looks miserable in their occupation to appreciate the service of a small town.
At one time I used to wonder how my life would have turned out had I not stayed here in the country with my family. What if I would have “pursued” writing, in the more conventional sense? I’ve since come to know that I wouldn’t have had anything to write about. My words would have been empty. But my soul is fulfilled here, living upon the land that loves and takes care of me and my family, so I write about what I know about, and what I love — as a farmer, parent, and empath — and share the words that Nature wants to have heard.
Looking back, I can’t help but admire the young girl I used to be, who knew where she needed to be and what she wanted. I will always hold a great appreciation for my parents who supported and encouraged me to listen to my heart. Life certainly hasn’t always gone as planned, there have been bumps and detours along the way, but as with all things in life, there are no accidents and every choice got me here.
I am not sure if my own children will want to farm or stay in the country, as I know it isn’t for everyone, but I will certainly try to provide every opportunity that I can to help them if they choose to stay, or to come back one day, such as my parents provided for me. Perhaps they will need to leave and spread their wings. Perhaps they will find another place that calls to them and feels like home. Or maybe they will be called back to the land that loves them, seasoned with life lessons and experiences.
Whether my children choose to stay or not, may they choose a way of life that fulfills them, not simply a logical occupation that pays the bills; one that nourishes their soul, not depletes it; a way of life where they look forward to rising every day, living their passion and expressing the joy that lives within them; a life where they are truly sharing their gifts.
In a society that has fallen into the traps of over-stimulation, distraction, and competition, and has come to equate happiness with money and success with a title, I feel it is time to refocus on the simple pleasures of life; healthy food, a safe, clean environment for our children to grow into who they are, and time to enjoy one another and see the magic in the world around us.
I feel it is time for a refocus on our small communities, because this is where this wholesome life can be lived. These small communities can be created within cities as well. They are simply groups of like-minded people who are all willing to co-create the world in which they want to live in. It is these communities that will encourage and allow our children to choose a way of life, not an occupation. Community gardens are a wonderful start for people to gather and share in the sacred act of growing nutritious food and showing love for the earth and the land that supports them. It is time that those of us in small communities stop sending our children, our most valuable resource, “out there for a better life” and start re-creating the life that we want right where we are. We don’t want to hold them back, but we can encourage them to stay or to return when they are ready. We can place our loving intent and energy into our communities, like a seed, and we will soon reap the bountiful harvest of fulfilled, contented people.
I hope that you have found this helpful! I would love to hear from you via my website www.jessieklassen.com. While there, feel free to sign up for my free weekly-ish newsletter where I share my lessons and experiences from living a life close to Nature.