Several years ago, I was at a high school reunion, gathered with a group of 5-6 of my classmates. Someone asked what I had been up to lately: how I was supporting my growing family.
“I’m trying to do it by farming.”
(A little background on this: It was known among these friends that, in my senior year, I had won a full academic scholarship to a highly-regarded private college in the South, going on to earn a Physics degree. For most of them, my trail had gone cold at that point, but they would naturally assume that I had gone on into some “advanced profession”. Some may have known that, afterwards, I began work in an engineering firm, which would seem like a reasonable next step.)
“Well, I don’t know of anything more gratifying, and I certainly don’t know of anything more challenging,” I followed.
Nervous laughter moved through the group as they tried to figure out if this was some kind of joke. I saw the look of sarcasm on the face of a nuclear engineer in the group, and most of the rest were exhibiting a response akin to rolling-of-the-eyes.
They didn’t get it.
That conversation happened six years ago, and various circumstances (to be discussed elsewhere) prevented us from staying on the farm, but I still feel the same way.
Just think about it. A farmer who is attempting to work with — rather than against — nature, has scores of skills he must master, especially if we’re talking about a “complete (vegetable and animal) farm” in the permaculture tradition.
Of course, the greatest problems I encountered in my four years on the farm were problems of biology and chemistry, some of which mankind has yet to answer effectively. But there were also issues of physics (electric fence, sunlight distribution), hydraulics (designed a gravity-powered spray irrigator), animal psychology (herding/moving animals, outsmarting predators), sociology (dealing with the locals), marketing, statistics, logistics, civil engineering (the cow bridge, to be told of later), genetics (okay, that’s biology), and many more.
Since leaving the farm, I have asked myself: What other profession requires the mastery of so many skills? And what other profession pushes a person so far beyond the merely technical and into the uncharted. For example, one question that I wrestled with on a regular basis was, “Do my animals have the genetic potential to eventually survive and thrive on this piece of land with nothing but minerals, water, and passive management (like paddock shifting, not shots)??”
That kind of question cannot be answered by academic science. It can only be answered by the thinking, observing, and testing of the farmer, and possibly only over several generations. I get motivated by that kind of a challenge.
Now I will grant that farming is largely missing one of the greatest uncharted territories of all: human behavior/interaction. On this score, I would say that a CEO or even some managers might have a “higher” profession.
But farmers who want to succeed like Salatin must become managers and deal with the public extensively, so you can check that off the list as well. And remember, all of this happens in conditions that range from idyllic to grueling to dangerous. In other words, there are morale and physical elements that you won’t find in the typical life of a CEO, scientist, or entrepreneur.
So, it seems to me that this kind of farming really is the “highest profession”, though I can understand the difficulty that non-farmers may have in believing this. What do you think and why?