Life here at 1840 Farm can get pretty dirty. Spring has only been here for a few weeks, yet the never-ending trail of garden soil has already started to appear in our mudroom. I’ll spend ten minutes every evening from now until winter trying to clean up the dirt before it ends up all over the rest of the house. Believe me, I don’t mind at all. Dirt on the mudroom floor means that winter has finally ended, spring is here, and summer will be sure to follow.
Summer is my favorite season. It brings with it long days spent outside working and playing. It means that we will end our days dirty from the work required to tend our extensive vegetable garden, fruit orchard, and flock of heritage chickens. We’ll eat lunch outside next to our circa 1840 barn while we listen to the cacophony of chicken sounds coming from our coop.
It won’t be long until we have tired muscles and blisters from the farm chores and unending list of construction projects. In fact, we’re hoping that a new hoophouse we’re building will extend our growing season past the 90 days that Mother Nature gives us in New England. With any luck, we’ll be dragging garden soil into the mudroom every month of the year.
Who am I kidding? I’ve got the sore muscles already and I’ve already applied bandages to blisters on my daughter’s hands. I spent yesterday using a sledgehammer to drive 30 inch rebar into the ground to stabilize our new hoophouse. Thor may be playing at a theater near you, but we’re playing Thor right here at 1840 Farm. He has a stone hammer, we’ve got a sledge. True, he has fancy superhero garb and a Norse god for a dad, but I’m not jealous. I’ve got over a hundred heirloom tomatoes seedlings getting ready for a warm spot in the hoophouse and a dad who helped me build it. Thor’s got nothing on me.
So why do we work this hard? Simple. We know that by growing and preparing our own food, we can stay connected to what we eat every day. No, we can’t produce everything that we eat, but we can try to come a little closer every year. Last year, we added chickens to the farm and now I can’t imagine buying eggs at the grocery store. In fact, we’re looking to add a few more hens to our flock just so we can make sure that we always have enough fresh eggs right outside our farmhouse door. Still, other people struggle to understand what we are doing. If only we had someone who could try to explain it to them.
Enter Mike Rowe. You know him, the man who makes learning about the Dirty Jobs that people in this country do everyday seem fun. The man behind Mike Rowe Works and all the resources that go with it. Well, he did something remarkable last week. He spoke before a Senate panel. I’m guessing that most of us wouldn’t consider speaking to the Senate as fun. I’m also guessing that after it was all said and done, we’d probably leave the Capitol feeling a little dirty. Mike seems like just the guy for this job.
Mike testified before the United States Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. The transcript of his speech is equal parts autobiography and a call to arms. The video is even more inspiring. I can’t remember the last time I listened to someone speaking in Washington, DC who I thought was making sense. Oh, that’s right, it was last week during the Future of Food Conference. Allow me to rephrase: I don’t remember the last time a government official said something that made sense. Clearly we have the wrong people sitting on the high and mighty side of the chamber.
Mike Rowe’s speech was well delivered and in my opinion, right on the money. He eloquently described how our society has gradually downplayed the value of real work. He spoke of his grandfather and a generation that knew how to fix things even if it wasn’t their profession. I remember those days when the neighborhood mothers and fathers all had their talents and they were called upon when needed. We knew that Mr. Smith could help fix your lawn mower and that he might call up and ask if my father could help install a new light fixture or repair drywall. One mother was the best seamstress while my mother might be asked for gardening advice. Everyone had something to contribute and in the end, everyone ended up the better for it. Now we ask neighbors if they know someone who is a good electrician or handyman. We rarely even think to try to make the repair ourselves or ask someone to teach us how to do it.
One line of Mike Rowe’s testimony really stuck with me. “And still, we talk about millions of “shovel ready” jobs for a society that doesn’t encourage people to pick up a shovel.” He’s right. We don’t encourage people to pick up a shovel or anything else that might require getting their hands dirty. We’ve chosen as a society to pretend that getting dirty isn’t a requirement of life. Along the way, I think we lost a little something. We became distant and disconnected from the work that makes our lives possible. Maybe that’s why these types of jobs are now regarded with so little value. It’s hard to value something that you chose to pretend isn’t there.
Why don’t we value hard work anymore? I’m not sure. I know that we used to. In fact, my grandparents and great grandparents all worked hard and weren’t afraid to get dirty. They spent their days tending things and making things. They knew how to fix things. They came home at the end of the day dirty with a sense of satisfaction.
I don’t know how we can return to a society that values dirty jobs like farming. I have a hard time believing that the Senate will be able to affect much change in this department. I have a distinct feeling that they are even more disconnected from the real working public than the rest of us. I certainly don’t intend to wait around for them to “help” me figure out what I can do.
I intend to do my part right here at 1840 Farm. I will happily pick up a shovel and get dirty. While I’m at it, I’ll teach my two children to do the same. I’ll encourage them to learn to fix or build something. I’ll consider it a success when they end the day with dirt under their fingernails. We’ll get dirty together and with any luck, we’ll end our days with a deep sense of satisfaction.
I’ll know that I’m doing something right when it is necessary for them to take a shower at the end of the day before I can even consider sitting at the dinner table with them. We’ll sit together as a family around our farmhouse table and eat something that we grew ourselves. We’ll connect with our food, our family, our lives, and our farm. Maybe I’ll even leave the dirt on the mudroom floor until tomorrow. After all, a little dirt never hurt anybody.