Farmers, the Original Homebodies

A while back, after taking a personality test, I wrote a post about farmer personality types. My personality type, an INFJ, isn’t a natural fit for farming, except for possibly the agricultural position of cult leader. Still, despite what the test results say, I doubt I could lead a cult, even just a little farm cult. I mean, yes, most INFJs are a few worms short of a full bait cup, but we don’t like spreading our worms with others. We like to keep them to ourselves. We’re private people. 

In that regard, INFJs–despite being generally unfit to wield a sharp hoe–may be drawn to the farming ideal, specifically the part about having a small corner of earth to call their hiding place. It wouldn’t surprise me if the first farmer was an INFJ. He was probably sick and tired of chasing woolly mammoths across the continent with his band of obnoxious hunter-gatherer buddies and just wanted some alone time. Thus, he decided to get out of the mammoth race, stay in one cave, and grow stuff. The first nomad became a farmer not because he was good at farming, but because he was tired of traveling and enjoyed being at a cave called “home.” Likely, because he was a terrible farmer, he starved to death and his skeleton still rests on the floor of that forgotten cave. Nevertheless, his idea about home caught on, and eventually people with more tactile abilities started growing stuff and built a civilization.

If you look closely you can see the INFJ in the back.

Fast forward thousands of years to 2020.  To cobble together enough acreage to make a living, grain farmers here are driving mammoth combines down narrow country roads, dodging mailboxes and logging trucks, to tracts all the way on the other side of the county. They don’t particularly enjoy traveling so far just to find land to work, but they do take a certain pride in extending their territorial planting range. Today’s farmer has evolved from chasing mammoths to driving them. By 2100, however, there will likely be no local farmers because our crop production will be outsourced to tech specialists in India, driving mega-combines and tractors remotely by joystick. 

All this sounds swell enough and is likely inevitable as farms grow bigger and bigger and farmers work land farther and farther away from home. But there is a certain irony in the decree to “get big or go home.” Going home used to be the whole point of farming, at least back when people chased mastodons. 

More Infrequently Asked Farming Questions

Is it hard being an all-around farm expert?

The hard part is perfecting a belly laugh. Laugh too hard at another farmer’s mistake, and you’ll be attacked with a large ratchet. Yet show any hesitancy in your laugh, and people will doubt you’re an expert. Thus, pointing out another farmer’s problem and belly laughing afterwards, which is the major job responsibility of an all-around farm expert, is like tight-rope walking with no net–meaning it’s a very perilous activity that should only be attempted by trained professionals or those who pack up and leave town after a week. 

What’s the best ladder for farm use?

Every farmer needs a good flimsy ladder, one that bows and bends and bounces. A sturdy ladder is a big mistake. Nothing hurts worse than being wallopped by a stout ladder seconds after you’ve plummeted back to earth. Nowadays it doesn’t pay to add insult to injury. In the old days, some orthopedic surgeons offered two-for-one deals (for each shattered ankle, you got a cracked rib for free). But now, with the state of modern healthcare as it is, you can’t count on free handling for secondary fractures, so it’s best to be whalloped by a flimsy ladder. 

Nobody fell off a ladder like Ernest. RIP Jim Varney.

What do you know about nude beekeeping?

Little. I only know one nude beekeeper, Ned. Ned was just a regular guy who wore clothes in public, especially in the bee yard. He never once thought about disrobing outdoors until he accidentally left his shirt tail out and bees (from a dropped frame) regrouped on his shoes and started marching (unbeknownst to Ned) up his pant legs. The bees formed two flanks along the belly and the back and coordinated a simultaneous assault. Underneath Ned’s shirt tail and over his belt, the bees charged onto bareskin, where many sacrificed their lives on the rolling terrain of Ned’s mid-section. Afterwards, Ned began running and shedding clothes simultaneously, leaving a trail of garments behind, including his whitey-tightys. This disrobing routine was captured and posted to YouTube by a random passerby and thereafter Ned became known locally as Nude Ned. 

How does evil spread in the world?

Sandspurs in your shoe laces. If you’ve never experienced sandspurs, picture yourself strolling through a blooming meadow. Smell the flowers and feel the gentle breeze. Watch bees glide from flower to flower. Then, while listening to meadowlarks sing, take one more step and hear yourself utter, at the top of your lungs, your favorite exclamatory phrase. Hear it echo throughout the countryside. Then start hopping one-footed while calling for a medic.

(For more infrequently asked farming questions, check out this post. )

How to Handle a Ruined Crop (or pass the pipe wrench)

There was a time in my life when I liked to discover stuff. Hate to say it, I’d actually get excited to learn new things. But as a farmer, I’ve become completely anti-discovery–and for good reason. Last year, for instance, I was driving down the road, eyes straight ahead, diligently trying not to discover anything, when I noticed something shadowy in the periphery. “Good gosh,” I thought, “what now?” I tried to resist, knowing that, generally speaking, shadowy things are bad, but my willpower failed me once again: I turned my head to look. 

“Holy smokes,” I said, “my whole field is black.” If only I hadn’t looked, my crop would still be green and vigorously growing, like it had been days earlier.

Most of what’s written on this blog should be taken with a big block of red mineral salt, but you can absolutely trust the following piece of farming advice: if your crop suddenly turns black, something is wrong, bad wrong. 

Amnesia: Ruined-Crop Cure All

The best solution for a suddenly black crop is either a stout pipe wrench to the head or bottle of hard liquor down the hatch. Either one, when applied quickly enough, can cause a bout of amnesia that erases the discovery of the ruined crop, allowing you to reawaken in the blissful state of prediscovery. Hopefully, you scribbled a warning on your arm for when you reawaken, or else you’re likely to go right back and rediscover the ruined crop, which can lead to a repeating pattern of pipe wrenches to the head and a severe headache.

And hopefully said warning wasn’t something specific like, “Don’t check milo crop because millions of sugarcane aphids are sucking the life out of it.” Discovering a statement like that scribbled on your forearm can cause shock and leave you convulsing on the floor. Thus, with warning notes scribbled on your personage, it’s better to be rather vague and nonchalant. For instance, a sufficient warning written across the forearm might read, “No need to check milo crop. All is well. Everything green (If by chance you do check, keep pipe wrench handy).” 

P.S.: another useful bit of farming advice: If you write the warning on your forehead, remember to write backwards so you can read it in a mirror. Also, if you want to grow a great pollinator plot, plant a field of milo for grain, let sugarcane aphids infest it, and every known species of stinging insect will descend on the field to suck up the honeydew. 

Thomas Jefferson: Founding Father of Failed Farmers.

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TJ: just another yeoman farmer.

In celebration of July Fourth, let us remember Thomas Jefferson–founding father and author of the Declaration of Independence. By writing such a highfalutin document, however, Jefferson nearly outdid himself and overshadowed his greatest accomplishment, achieving the distinction as Virginia’s worst farmer.

Among neighboring farmers, the joke was Jefferson couldn’t even grow oats and thus merely fed his horses philosophy. This explained his horses’ poor condition. Jefferson’s friend Margaret Bayard Smith wrote, “He is a great agriculturalist and horticulturalist in theory, but practically, I imagine, he knows little of any cultivation, but that of flowers, of which he is extremely fond.”

The Danger of Mimicking a Master

Locals pretty much say the same about me. One farmer even called me “a great agricultural ignoramus.” Like Jefferson, I’m generally not good at growing anything but flowers or plants that end with the suffix -weed. At growing those two things, I excel.

Over the years, I’ve thought about writing important stuff like Jefferson. In fact, in college I started writing a serious epic poem in iambic pentameter called “My Grandma’s Pond,” but gave up when I couldn’t think of a good rhyme for the line, “Into the wind, I cast my plastic worm.”

If I wrote something as earth-shattering as the Declaration of Independence, I’d run the danger of people forgetting my bumper pigweed crop of 2016. Truth be told, I’d be sad if local farmers didn’t slap me on the back and ask, “How’s your pigweed looking this year?” 

When we bought the farmstead from my wife’s poppaw, I should have realized that Lowry was up to something. Right after we signed the closing documents, he leapt in the air and kicked his heels together. Little did I know at that point, Lowry had just offloaded his pigweed problem on me, his grandson-in-law. Pigweed had the farm besieged, and I soon found myself fighting an endless war to beat it back. In 2016, I grew such a great stand of pigweed you could barely spot a soybean. The feat won me the unofficial title as the county’s worst farmer.

Last year, however, I nearly goofed and grew a good crop of soybeans. If it wasn’t for a late summer drought, I would have had to scramble to keep my title as our county’s worst farmer. Recently, I’ve gotten a lot of competition from upstarts. One family rented a livestock trailer from the local farm supply. They forgot to secure the trailer’s door and let two cows roam a busy intersection.

Breakthroughs in Agricultural Theory

Pigweed: also known as the Devil Incarnate

Since buying the farm, I have, like Jefferson, studied up on agricultural theory and devised some promising methods for combating pigweed. For conventional farmers who are okay using agricultural chemicals, I recommend getting your hands on a barrel napalm. Since I’m nearly certain pigweed seeds can’t survive temperatures over 1000°F, I believe firebombing a field would be an effective way to eradicate pigweed.

For organic farmers, options are more-limited, but I believe procuring a small nuclear device (plutonium being all-natural) would suffice. According to my calculations, a small nuclear blast would release enough radiation to eradicate pigweed for several square miles. However, this method also runs the risk of causing pigweed to mutate and morph into a super-villain. Such a development could make farming in the future more difficult, even for the best farmers.

Anyway, enough nonsense. Happy July Fourth!

(FWIW, the internet believes Thomas Jefferson was an INFJ. You can read more about the INFJ propensity for farming failures in my post Farming Personality Types.)

Inheritable Farming Traits

I wonder if anyone ever studied the SPF value of grease and barn grime. Early in the summer, sometimes I look down at my arms and think that I’ve finally gotten my seasonal farmer’s tan, only to have the grimy patina wash off in the shower. But after a day drilling soybeans, I’ve gotten it this year; from the bottom of my shirtsleeves down, the brown color isn’t washing off.

home grown

My wife tells me I need to wear sunscreen. I try to, but most of the time I forget. I know one day I’m going to regret not wearing any, but secretly I’m kind of proud of my farmer’s tan. I may not be good at growing crops, but I can grow a first-rate farmer’s tan, and that counts for something.  I’ve got an even and well-distributed tan on all exposed surfaces (A farmer riding around and around on a cabless tractor is the human equivalent of a chicken turning on a rotisserie).  

My wife and I are bracing for our first child–June 30th is the scheduled date of arrival–and we’re hoping the baby has my skin complexion and ability to tan, my curly hair, my wife’s nose and generally, well, her whole face. We also hope the baby has ten fingers and ten toes, though we aren’t picky as to whom the digits take after. Admittedly, a lot of farmers around here are missing a finger, and I worry there might be a local genetic anomaly at play.

To be honest, I know very little about baby humans. And most of what I do know comes from my wife’s corrections. I know I shouldn’t use the term “scours,” especially in the presence of doctors and nurses, when referring to loose baby patties. I know I shouldn’t dip the umbilical cord in iodine–the doctor will handle that.

milk replacer

I know the correct term for store-bought baby milk is “formula,” not “milk replacer.” To be honest, I nearly fell over when I saw how expensive milk replacer was at the grocery store. For a much better price, I told my wife I could get a 50-pound bag of milk replacer at the farm supply. That’s when she said the correct term was “formula,” and that I couldn’t feed our baby Purina milk replacer.

Then, when we got to the baby bottle section of the aisle, my wife did that weird thing where she reads my mind. “No,” she said, before I could say a word, “you can’t use the calf bottles in the barn to feed our baby either.”

“But they hold a lot more than those bottles,” I said. “Using those dinky little things, we’d have to feed our baby more than twice a day.”

She just glared at me, like she does when I make a good point. Now that I think of it, I hope our baby has my ability to make good points.