Get To Know Your Farmer…And Challenge Your Assumptions

One great aspect of buying locally is that you can actually get to know the farmer who grew the tomatoes or raised the chicken you buy from him or her. If you go to your local farmer’s market, talk to the farmer – ask about how the animals are raised (grass-finished?) or if pesticides are used on vegetables. Give feedback about products (e.g., “best chicken I’ve tasted!” or “I told my friend to buy your awesome strawberries”). Farmers are proud of their wares, and most will willingly answer your questions and be pleased that you care enough about your food to ask.

Remember the adage “don’t judge a book by its cover”? That applies to farmers, too. We live in a society that makes judgments about people based on their appearance – do you wear the right clothes, drive the right car, live in the right neighborhood, have the right title? Like most people, farmers are multi-dimensional. While some may have grown up farming, others didn’t. We’re of the latter camp: we didn’t grow up in farming families, so we learned as we went (and continue to learn). We worked corporate jobs, lived in the suburbs, commuted for hours a day, drank lots of corporate coffee. We wore attire appropriate to that lifestyle.

Now, we work the farm in muddy rubber boots, duck cloth jackets, and are often wearing (decorative?) bits of straw or mud. And makeup? Forget about it. The animals don’t care if you’re made up or not. They just want their food, clean water, and space to roam. Skip the lipstick or hair gel. “High maintenance” is illogical on the farm.

Back to challenging assumptions – let me share a lesson learned. When I was much younger, I worked in a company in an entry-level role. The company brought in a temporary employee to work reception. She was a woman in her late 40s, very professional. I liked her immediately. She was good at reception, and had an appealing, warm demeanor; in retrospect, she was a bit “counselor”-like. Some time later, she shared that she had been a successful family law attorney, but had decided she didn’t want to do that work anymore. As a spring chicken, that knocked my socks off – she had been an attorney and just walked away? And took a temp reception job??

Now that I’m older, it makes more sense. She didn’t find her work fulfilling, even though she was good at it, so she decided to do something different. In middle age, no less. This woman’s courage and ability to imagine a life outside of what society had deemed “successful” embodies the concept that you need to do not only what pays the bills, but what you feel good about doing. Whether society lauds you for your choice should be irrelevant. Her humility – the willingness to take a low-paying, low-status, temporary role without it impacting her self-worth because it was simply part of her journey – made an impression that remains with me to this day.

Thank you, H. You are an inspiration, and I hope you found the fulfillment you were seeking. Wherever you are, keep challenging people to think differently!

So remember: get to know your local farmer, and you may be surprised.