Farming Bad: Gardening Good

John W. Pinkerton

Being a farmer is insane: being a gardener is cool.

Farming is just way too much work.  It’s a noble occupation: translation, underpaid.   Even though I lost some sympathy for the crop farmer when I noticed that most of the tractors had airconditioners, I still have some sympathy for them.  I’m sure farm subsidies had a noble purpose when they began: now, however, I suspect that too often they’re scams.  I could probably justify art subsidies as easily as oil subsidies, solar power subsidies, ethanol subsidies, and farm subsidies.  Although most farmers are gentlemen, the term “gentleman farmer” is probably an oxymoron looking for a subsidy.  (I suspect some of you folks may have some resentments about the above paragraph.  If I could, I would apologize, but, frankly, I don’t give a damn.)

Farms went from seven million in the 30’s to two million at the turn of the century.  Three hundred and thirty farmers give it up each week.

My grandfather Barron was a farmer.  He sustained his family on a farm.  This was particularly helpful during the Depression.  No money, but food was plentiful.

What I know about raising a crop, you can put in a pea shell.  But I do know that if you put a seed in the ground and water it, you’ll get food.  For a couple of years, Linda and I had a small garden: cucumbers, tomatoes, squash, peppers, radishes.  It was fun.  It was satisfying.  My mother had large gardens most of her life.  She plowed with a hand plow, and until she was in her 80’s, she used a power plow.  I tried the damned thing once: it nearly beat me to death.  The size of her gardens was too much for me.

Being an optimist, I used electrical conduit as the poles for our tomatoes.  I used them because I could add to their height with a coupling.  My optimism was justified: each tomato plant grew to over fifteen feet.  Fortunately I had an appropriate ladder.  I felt a little like Jack and the tomato stalk.

Radishes are fun because they grow so quickly.  Cucumbers, given a fence to crawl on or a bed of hay, will also produce wildly.  My squash never produced much: some kind of bug, probably a squash bug.  Peppers are also fun to grow.  I did learn that you shouldn’t grow different breeds too close together: they cross pollinate and what should have been mild becomes hot, and what should have been hot becomes mild.  Live and learn.

“You can bury a lot of troubles digging in the dirt” (author unknown).  Well, it’s true.  I think when we started a garden, we had a few personal concerns: when do we not?  Each day when we came home, we immediately went into the garden to see what had happened while we were away: very satisfying. 

The end of our farming came when I added to our home and covered the garden area with house.  I still miss the garden, and if I live long enough, I suspect I’ll have another.  Perhaps when I tire of painting and my mind become too muddled to write these essays: maybe tomorrow.


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