It happens every time I visit a farm — that same feeling you get when you look out at the beach while on vacation and say, "Yeah, I could live here."
I could do it. I could farm. Fresh air. No office. Dirt rather than dust. Get up in the morning and work until the work is done, or until you can't muster another push. Luckily, I know better.
My friend and photographer colleague Richard and I went out to Front Field Farm in Winterville Thursday morning to report this story. Front Field started a little west of us in Covington, but the owners, Alex and Jacqui, bought 39 acres near Athens to be closer to their market base and grow their operation. The plan for this year was to put 4 acres into production, inching bigger year by year. Having worked on a bustling 7-acre farm myself, I enjoyed being able to see what was sure to be a productive farm in its early stages.
While at Front Field, Richard said to me the same thing I think about each time I report anything agriculture related.
"I always think I want to farm when we come out to places like this," he said, adding that he knows he could never hack it as a farmer, what with all that back-breaking work.
It's bad, but it's not so bad, I tell him. You'd get used to it if it was something you wanted to do. I worked five years building houses from frame to finish, braving Georgia's version of the bitter cold and its hellish take on heat. I worked on a farm, too, but never to the 60-70 hours a week extent that most farmers I know clock. I know a bit about what it takes. But as romantic as the pastures, the soil, the mooing, the sun can get, I know this about myself: I'm a writer and photographer. In the past I've punished myself with labor, not allowing myself to indulge in the passion I knew I had since I was young. But if I've learned anything in being a father, it's to not lie to yourself, to not second guess yourself, to believe in yourself.
If I went back to farming now, I'd get nothing done, and likely get fired fast, since I'd be stopping every minute to photograph some ray of light or jot down an errant thought. Weeds would go un-weeded. Beans un-trellised. Peppers not picked. I wouldn't be able to stop myself.
I'm a writer. When I'm not writing, I get fidgety and cross and pissed. Perhaps one day when mortgage payments aren't so dependent on my word counts I'll try to find a balance between the writing life and the laboring life. I'd like that, I would. But having in the past tried to farm or build during the day and come home at night to write and create, I know, for myself, that it just doesn't work.
My cloudy head today thought only of owning pigs and chickens, spending my mornings feeding and moving my darlings around a pasture and my afternoons typing away at a blog or book. It sounds nice. And perhaps realistic. Certainly something to work towards.
At the moment, though, I feel charged as a food storyteller, communicating the lives of folks stationed deep in hoop houses or stuck in dish pits. I've been in their position, and I'm a better help doing what I'm doing now.
So, when I daydream about quitting my job, selling my digital devices and digging in the dirt, I shake all that off and remind myself: NOPE.