Farming often hits the headlines for all the wrong reasons these days. If it’s not the state of our freshwater, it is burping cows warming the planet, or the “crime” of producing meat at all. In our over-hyped, misinformed, echo-chambered lives, it’s easy to get the impression that farming might not be a great lifestyle choice. It’s not often we get to hear about the flip side and what it is that keeps farmers farming despite the downsides. Perhaps we should take a closer look at this most noble of career choices, for farming is indeed “God’s work”. For families who partake in it, there can be riches way beyond monetary reward.
Farming can be quite a rugged number. It’s outdoor work in all weathers, with long hours and few days off. You’re usually tied to a property that is isolated and so social interactions are limited and that can be mentally challenging.
Your productivity is very much determined by the weather, over which you have no control, and you usually have limited scope for determining your sales prices in the constrained, industry-controlled Kiwi marketplace. This inability to control your own financial destiny can contribute significantly to poor mental health outcomes, especially if highly indebted.
But for kids growing up on farms, there’s a lot to love, and for families as a whole there can be huge pluses, if you can handle the other stuff. Living and working in the fresh air with plenty of natural exercise in your daily routine, there’s no need to do fitness, and no sitting for hours in traffic jams or at a stuffy office desk. Kids benefit from having both parents around for most of the time, even if out in the paddocks, and there are many opportunities for joining in. There are lots of rural activities to get stuck into like riding bikes or horses and hunting or fishing.
Nowadays, this is morphing into the hunting of pest species through trapping and baiting. Farming builds folk who ooze self-reliance, resilience and pragmatism.
It’s specifically through working with farm animals that we develop a whole suite of other beneficial human traits.
We live their lives with them through mating, birth, growth, ageing and death, and in doing so we learn connectivity, compassion, humility and patience. In caring for our livestock, we become observant and in tune with natural cycles, and gain perspective on the natural cycles in our own lives, including the vagaries of accidents and illness.
This is a dance that we humans have been partnering with domestic livestock over thousands of years, and in so doing they have formed us as much as we have formed them.
Farming isn’t for everyone, but it can certainly make us better people. We need farming systems that nurture these deep connections between ourselves and nature and foster the development of the fullness of humanity and enriched lives for us and them.