Farm Til You Go Broke

There is an old saying that goes something like this:

“What would you do if you won the lottery?”

“I’d farm until I went broke.”

Like everything that is funny, this saying has something absurd and something true in it. The true part is a lot of farmers do keep going even when the handwriting is on the wall that their farm is a financial failure. What causes folks to work incredibly hard in an industry that is among the most physically dangerous, and which can lead to financial ruin? I have a theory.

My professional life was spent at Michigan Tech University, where I was involved in computer support. I was the campus email postmaster for a spell, took care of MTU’s gopher server, and was responsible for the university’s first web page. I think I was best at listening to folks that had a problem that could potentially be solved with a computer, and then bridging the gap with them to make that computer solution happen. I met a lot of fine people, and felt good about the work I did.

maple1But there was something missing. At the end of the day, I had nothing really tangible to show for my efforts. Many times when Alice and I talked about our work day, I couldn’t think of a single thing I’d done, even though I’d been busy all day.

I’m knee deep in the maple syrup season right now. I spent 4 hours in the woods boiling and working on firewood, then spent most of the evening bottling the 3 gallons of syrup that had accumulated in the refrigerator. I can look at that line of quart jars on the kitchen counter, and have a very good idea of what I accomplished today. Out in the woods, I used my chainsaw to clean up some balsam fir tree trunks left over from the boughs I’d gathered for wreaths last Christmas season. These wood blocks will be firewood for next year’s boiling season. I don’t have to scratch my head to figure out what I accomplished today, because the results are all around me.

And there is something seductive about having a plan, and making a demonstrable dent in implementing that plan. There is also something seductive about our Saturday morning ritual breakfast of pancakes and the world’s best maple syrup, produced on our own property with our own hands.

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