In my small town high school, sociology was the boring class where everyone got As and calculus was taught by a former Marine Corps colonel who thought math was memorizing rules. Future farmers took FFA where they could work with tools and machines and plants and animals. Unless you really enjoy working all these, you won’t be much use at Meadowcreek or any other farm.
Above all this the resilient farmer has a love of people. But it’s a love which doesn’t bear much resemblance to the types of love you find outside resilient farms. It doesn’t include much talk and usually shows little emotion. But the smiles are quick and the pats on the back are often.
I didn’t learn any of these growing up on a small farm in central Missouri. Somehow, the love of animals, plants, and machines didn’t motivate me much back then. Instead I got infected with the love of formal knowledge, books, reading and abstract theorizing. In short, I was a good liberal. I knew how to write well and I read all the books and magazines smart people read. And, so, I absorbed the assumptions of those smart, liberal people.
After I went off to college, I discovered that social psychology was not boring, but focused on crucial skills that farmers often lack, but resilient farmers always have. A farm is not resilient unless the farmer passes knowledge of his land and equipment to someone with the skills to maintain them all. Most farmers grow up on a farm, absorb those skills and attitudes by osmosis. My parents had both grown up on farms, but knew there was a whole ‘nother world out there that they wanted their kids to explore.
After seven years of studying and teaching social psychology at two universities, I realized I was getting straight A’s, mastering all the material and still didn’t really understand how to work with people. The department secretaries told me: “the only professors crazier than psychology professors are sociology professors.” Any good farmer knows more about dealing with people than they did. His knowledge is tacit, not formal, but it works.
Once I realized this, I rebounded into genetics—as far from psychology as I could get. I studied genetics in the Agronomy department. My degree in Agronomy, though my courses were nearly all genetics, landed me a job running all the Save the Children’s agriculture programs. So, with multiple degrees in social psychology and a doctorate in genetics, I was faced with managing agriculture programs in 41 countries.
That experience taught me that enjoying tools and machines and plants and animals must be accompanied with enjoying rural people. The resilient farmer spends much of his day working with other people. She won’t talk a lot, but a lot gets passed on without words.
Learning about farming systems around the world also taught me one of the basic dualities of resilient farms: you have to be independent, but you have to be tightly networked. Your network will include marketing, processing, input supply and policy folks. But the peculiar social behavior which works between the people on the resilient farm also works with your network outside the farm. In fact, they love the taciturn, quiet ways of resilient farmers.
They’ll say, “he doesn’t talk much, but when he does, it really means something.” At Meadowcreek we sometimes get interns who talk a lot and sometimes ones who are quiet. The quiet ones usually fit in really well. The talkative ones have often leave. But all are welcome.
Come and see us at Meadowcreek and learn the peculiar social behavior of resilient farms. You really can’t put it into words, but I hope I’ve at least got you interested in it.