There’s a certain romance about working on the land that fuels many farmers’ passion for their craft. Whether it satiates a primal drive to live and work in symbiosis with mother nature, or a worldlier ambition to earn an honest ‘salt-of-the-earth’ crust, farming is deeply fulfilling.
It’s an endlessly diverse lifestyle that requires aptitude across multiple trades. Failing that, a certain willingness to ‘have a crack’ will suffice. Ecological literacy is the cornerstone of regenerative agriculture and building, mechanics, earthworks, plumbing, marketing, communications and so on, are the pillars that surround it to create a successful farm.
Small-scale farmers and their allies across Australia are banding together to share knowledge, promote agroecology, ‘grow the growers’ and create resilient, ethical food systems. The movement is typified by organisations such as Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance, various Farmers Markets associations and of course our much-loved Deep Winter Agrarians Gathering.
This farmer community is bolstered by allies across many sectors who work or volunteer their time to strengthen local food systems. Then there are the eaters that simply choose to engage with these systems. They seek out CSAs, farmers markets and farm shops; they grow their own; they create barter and gifting economies; they preserve food when it is abundant. They sacrifice the kings of convenience and choice at the altar of animal welfare, soil quality and human rights. They are asserting their food sovereignty.
However, sepia tones and over exposed photos of crops swaying in the breeze do not fully exemplify farming, as Instagram would have you believe. An element of the romance derives from resilience and overcoming challenges. Farming is a tough gig. It is one of those professions that is more of a lifestyle. It takes hard physical labour and all kinds of crazy work hours to deliver a healthy harvest from healthy soil.
As it is largely omitted from schooling many farmers must learn by osmosis from their families or mentors, especially the new wave of urbanites returning to the land. They learn by trial and error and trials they will receive. Producing food is done at the mercy of the natural world. A delicate balance is struck between the grower and their environment but even the best relationships can be destroyed by the volatile forces of nature.
As someone that began their farming journey only 5 years ago, I have seen but the tip of the iceberg (or the top of the carrot as it were). Still, the challenges that I have faced brought me to breaking point. I like kicking back and taking it easy as much as anyone but I am sure that I am no stranger to hard work. I have received military food and sleep deprivation training, hiked over glaciers, and spent time in isolated places but it was in farming that I stumbled. I broke down in tears, suffered from insomnia and began feeling the physical effects of mental ill-health and I am far from the only one. Farming is a tough gig.
Luckily, I have strong personal and community relationships that kept me buoyant through a rough patch. I feel emboldened by my farming contemporaries and the allies that rally around us, championing our local food system. I am blessed to be involved in those solidarity economies, barter exchanges, farmers markets and the like that create a communal support network.
It is important that farmers are transparent about both their successes and their failures. Lest they succumb to the crushing weight of carrying these challenges alone. We must share the awe and devestation of fire, flood and pests but also revel in the beauty and power of nature and marvel at the intricacy and incredible simplicity of those who work well with it. The tests that farmers face and the rewards received from overcoming them are two sides of the same coin.