By Lois Hoffman
Irreconcilable differences. This term surfaces a lot in relationships when the only thing that two people can agree on is to disagree. Recently, this issue came up with Ron and me… not our relationship, but rather, our way of life.
He has been a farmer all of his life and, although I grew up on a farm, my passion has been gardening. Of course, some of each has rubbed off on the other one and I remarked, “If we’re not careful, you’ll make a farmer out of me and I’ll make a gardener of you.” He quickly countered with, “You’ll never be a farmer and I’ll never be a gardener.”
Like most irreconcilable differences, most points of concern aren’t really that far apart. A farm is defined as an area of land used for growing crops and the definition of a garden is an area of land used for growing fruits, vegetables or flowers. There are many large businesses that grow fruits, vegetables and flowers for resale, thus making them crops in the same sense as corn, soybeans, wheat and all other farm crops. Just south of me there is a 70-acre “farm” that raises only daylilies and hostas. There is no way that I would refer to this operation as a “hobby garden.”
Yet, there is that distinct differentiation and most gardeners are thought of as hobbyists. Most gardeners that I know take it pretty seriously just like farmers do. We all check the weather forecast at a minimum of three times daily. We scrutinize either fact sheets for different brands of crop seeds or seed catalogs to find varieties that offer the particular characteristics that we are looking for in a crop and ones that are suitable for our types of soil and geographic region where we live. Yeah, we are all pretty much on the same page here.
What does set farmers and gardeners apart are our methods for to the end product; quality and quantity of good crops. The three biggest obstacles for both are plant diseases, insect and critter control and weed management. Perhaps the one of these that poses the biggest problem is weed control. Here is where the gardener has made strides that can actually benefit the farmer.
Perhaps one of the hottest current debates is the use of herbicides that contain glyphosate, the active ingredient in most herbicides (the most popular being Round-up, produced by Monsanto) which is designed to be toxic to plants. Farmers don’t make a profit if they don’t have crops and they don’t have crops if weeds take over. Right now they are between a rock and a hard place because their choices for controlling weeds is very limited. Round-up and a few other herbicides based on the same principle are what they are forced to use to have a crop.
Scientists struggle to find better options that will kill weeds and, at the same time, not pose health hazards. Sometimes testing in the laboratory under controlled conditions has its limitations, yet it is not practical to test a new product on several acres. Gardeners are much more adapted to trying new products because they do operate on smaller scales. Weeds are weeds and if it works in the garden, it will work in fields.
Farmers and gardeners can disagree all day and profess how different they are, save for one point they will all agree on, that you can’t be either one without a deep-rooted love and respect for the land. Even though I have seen it year after year, I still marvel how from one tiny seed that looks like it has no life in it can spring forth a plant that will produce a multitude of seeds and all these plants together will make a field and fields will fill a country. Only gardeners and farmers will understand this, it is something inside of them that is born in their soul.
I am lucky enough to have the advantage of the view from both sides. My parents were farmers and we also not only put out a big garden to sustain us through the winter, but we also had a truck patch which produced vegetables to sell. Living on a state highway, we sold produce from a stand in our front yard as well as taking orders to fill.
My cousin’s husband Dick also grew up on a truck patch and knows as well as I do the joys (and sometimes not) of spending day after day hoeing potatoes, spraying potatoes, picking cucumbers and sweet corn and other tasks. We both grew up raising produce for farmers’ markets before that term was ever a household word.
So, by all means, we should have wanted to run as far from a garden as we could when we got out on our own but rather, we are out there every year planting, weeding and hoeing because there is something in our soul about growing things in the earth that is ingrained in us. The term “grounding” is popular now. We are being told that it is good for us, physically and spiritually, to take our shoes off and walk in the dirt. I guess Dick and I are ahead of our time, we knew that over 40 years ago.
The same goes for farmers. Have you ever really met a retired farmer? Bet not. Oh, they may have given up the actual practice of being in the fields but they still watch the weather, they still watch the markets. Once a farmer, always a farmer.
So, back to the irreconcilable differences. Ron may never be a master gardener and I will never get the hang of using all the equipment and knowing the intricacies of farming, but the bottom line is that the basics are the same. There is no other vocation except farming and gardening where the love of watching the earth produce is rooted, like our crops are rooted, so deeply in our soul.
Photos property of Lois Hoffman.
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