A culture is a way of life of a group of people: the behaviors, beliefs, values, and symbols that they accept, generally without thinking about them, and that are passed along by technology, communication and imitation from one generation to the next.
With fewer of us down on the farm, there’s also fewer that understand our culture.
To be sure, times have changed. There’s less manual labor and more mechanization, but farming still requires substantial knowledge and is still physically demanding. Thanks to technology, a tractor and planter might be set to drive automatically, but Mr. Corn Farmer still likes to turn it around himself at the end of the row to ensure proper alignment. He must possess a tremendous understanding about agronomy and mechanics in order to be able to tell that same tractor what to do. While the tractor drives, he will monitor the equipment, phone the grain broker or his Real Farmwife, use the Internet to check news that affects markets, and review the weather forecast. Every once in awhile he’ll get out to adjust the pressure, seed flow, air supply, and tend to other maintenance issues. There are still some problems that the newest sensors can’t sense, as well as tasks that require heavy lifting and some “old man strength.”
A farmer must also be well acquainted with principles of Soil Science, Genetics, Meteorology, Biology, Chemistry, Math, Animal Science, Grain Marketing, Construction, Water Rights, Business Law, Economics, Finance, and Accounting. All of this is balanced with heavy dose of common sense, computer savvy, work ethic, and strong communication skills.
Despite the technological changes over the years, little girls and little boys start learning about this way of life long before high school job shadowing opportunities. They live it by helping feed livestock. (Animal Science) They play at it with a full line of toy John Deere Equipment. (Mechanics) They listen to discussions of break even analysis at the dinner table. (Accounting) They pick up small bales of hay in the summertime. (Work Ethic) They chop ice for the water tank in the winter. (Common Sense) They help in the backyard garden. (Agronomy) They learn how to set the planter for proper seed depth when planting the sweet corn patch. (Soil Science)
They live and breathe farming along with their parents.
Today’s farm kids may be technology savvy, but they retain yesterday’s values. They see us help neighbors and anyone else that needs a hand. They see us take care of baby animals beyond the point of a cost incentive to do so. They learn practices that conserve water and build topsoil in such a way that also makes a living. They see us work long hours on weekends. They are taught to appreciate family, friends, and blessings in the midst of the unpredictability of farming.
In our house, our boys do all this; and then they play sports, practice band instruments, chat with friends, go to Boy Scout meetings, ride bikes, read books, play on the iPad, mow the yard, help with dishes and do all the things that other non-farm kids do.
As much as farming is about passing on skills to the next generation, it’s even more about passing on the attitudes and attributes that make a farmer adaptable, inventive, and ethical whether the planter is pulled by a horse or 425 horsepower tractor.
So what’s the status of “culture” of agriculture? On our family farm, as we consider beliefs, values, traditions and technology, we think it’s alive and well.