Betting the farm

In farming, there are certain paddocks you leave fallow. It is said crop rotation means no one area is ever completely exhausted of nutrients. I’m thinking of this space as one which I’ve left fallow while I recover. It’s not like I haven’t been busy though.

There has been art and writing and work and life. I finally submitted my novella as part of a collection to a competition. I’m quite nervous about it, which means I care, which means it’ll hurt if nothing comes of it. But pain like that is something I’ve grown used to.

It means I’ll keep going. There will be other chances.

But why all this about farming?

I grew up on farms and in farming communities. Some imagine farmers as a pragmatic and practical type of people. Folk, who work hard, make hard decisions and generally, are salt of the earth. As far as stereotypes are concerned, there are reasons for them.

However, farmers are also massive risk takers and total sentimentalists, who put everything they have and are at stake. Farming is an identity and a vocation. Much of what they do depends upon their own physical abilities. Yet, a lot more depends on stuff farmers can’t control much: weather, pests, Customs and diseases, commodity prices linked to markets that fall and rise on whims, government policy, and on staying competitive compared to places where people earn so much less. Just in the attempt to produce something.

This artist might have seen a sheep once. Maybe.

This artist might have seen a sheep once. Maybe.

One bad business decision, or one unexpected rate rise or government policy change and farmers lose the house and land they live on. Or they spend years in negotiations with banks and government for bailouts and overdraft extensions for the 15 year drought. Finally, when it does rain, it floods and whatever topsoil that wasn’t blown into the ether as dust now washes away.

Having experienced much of this as a child, I wouldn’t be a farmer for anything. Not that there aren’t rewards, but there is plenty of heartbreak.

Having said all that, I realise writing has a lot in common with farming. It’s a gamble. Or a massive trust exercise. Farmers and writers take all their wisdom and talent and bet on the conditions being right that someone will, not only need what they produce, but recognise the value, place and quality of it, and then pay enough so they can make that bet all over again.

Actual 1940s sheep.

Actual DRM free sheep.#straya

Farmers look at long-range forecasts, commodity indexes and talk to agronomists and other experts. Writers look at the media, the market place, and talk to editors and agents and publishers. Both do what they need to do. Same diff.

Farmers and writers generally take a while to learn all the skills they need. They may even take classes, or take advice from their peers, and industry experts, attend seminars, form community supports, but generally, both roles are independent.

Farmers and writers are often their own bosses, who are responsible for their own decisions and, the results of their calculations, or miscalculations. And sometimes live on other work when they can’t live off what they really want to do.

Both roles are often thankless, and largely anonymous and ignored. Most of the work happens in behind the scenes type tasks, sometimes in regular chores and other times in fits and spurts, while the finished product conceals the discipline behind it. The glossy book cover, that flour or wool? Think about all the hours it took to produce, refine, transport, market and deliver to you to consume.

Of course, if there were no farmers neither you nor I would have much to eat or wear. If there were no writers no one would physically starve or shiver in the cold night. But we wouldn’t be culturally, historically, spiritually, nourished nor much comforted. Even for the least interested person, they too, read and watch the odd bit of TV.

I guess then, while I think I’m a lot like my mother, with her abilities and interest in art and writing and also performance, I realise I am also my father’s daughter. He wanted nothing but to be a farmer. I want/ed to be a writer. He bet everything on his dream, and it gave him a bit. Not exactly what he imagined or wanted, perhaps. But still.

My bet is different and yet, entirely the same.


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