Farmersonly.com has attracted endless ridicule for its blunt approach to hitching up America’s aggies. It seems hilarious that farmers insist on seeking out like-minded cow-whisperers, but this approach to dating makes sense; good ol’ fashioned American ranches are dwindling in number, and farming demands intense support structures. Only six percent of America’s farmers are younger than 35, and with urban farming on the rise, it’s clear that traditional agriculture isn’t a huge hit for young folks. Don’t let the TED Talks fool you — no matter the technological advances, the need for patient and consistent farm labor will never completely die out.
Agricultural stakes are enormously high — poor choices means empty bellies and lives lost as collateral. Even a good season does not necessarily merit a higher payoff; the increase in food prices over the last decade does not necessarily benefit farmers. Standard business procedures like acquiring health insurance or loans can be extremely tricky in a free-form business like agriculture. Crops, animals and the land are stubborn and unforgiving bosses. There is little sick leave and few second chances. Surely there are benefits to farm life, but these obstacles have directed young people more toward careers with steadier incomes and paid vacation.
On top of stagnated incomes, the stereotypes associated with rural farming in the United States push more people away from choosing it as a career. The media’s portrayal of the American farmer has moved from the hardworking champion to an uneducated redneck. Perhaps Ol’ MacDonald had a farm, but he had neither teeth nor a complex vocabulary. These negative stereotypes censor out the patience, kindness and reasoning skills it takes to farm. We tend to not associate agriculture with intelligence, despite the fact that it demands a precise literacy of animal behavior patterns and a sharp focus on an enormous network. Also, milking a cow by hand is much more difficult than one would expect, FYI.
Working on a farm is a strenuous test in balance and patience that few can pull off. When I worked on a farm in high school, we woke up at 5 a.m. every day without a minute to spare. Before that job, I saw agriculture as a graduated petting zoo, only to find that actual lives depended on me rolling out of bed and into a cold, smelly barn. Hitting snooze meant that animals would be left alone and gardens would be untended. There was no way to apologize for screwing up other than to immediately rectify the situation, a concept that was completely foreign to me.
There is a tremendous amount of effort that goes into running a farm, without which we would all go hungry. Still, agriculture doesn’t receive much attention in many political conversations despite its enormous relevance in all our lives. The farming system is certainly not without faults — as it stands, it’s a stage for exploitation of labor and inattention to quality of life. To make impactful change, we need to care more about U.S. farms and food workers, whose hard work is necessary in building any future for our country.