August 10, 2012 at 11:05 AM

Hard Work and More Work

"We have so little time to do all the cool things we want to do."

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This is a weekly blog about the author’s experiences as an intern on a farm in Alcalde, New Mexico. The entry concludes with the Santa Fe Farmer’s Market Report, which provides an overview of goods headed to market each week.

It's nearing 6 p.m. on Tuesday. I’m at the pump house at Mer-Girl Gardens, filling a couple of five-gallon jugs with water for the house and feeling particularly satisfied with myself over a hard day’s work, when our persnickety neighbor, we’ll call her M, comes by. She asks where Farmer Ron is, and as she walks out to the field to find him says, “Boy, I’m glad I went to college. Farming’s hard work.”

Attempting as I am to treat everyone as the Buddha she is at heart, I could view M’s comment as merely poorly worded, either an attempt to relate to me or perhaps to express her own distain for physical labor, but I’d been on the receiving end of M’s sweetly toned insults before, and I’m not all that practiced at Buddhism (I’ve read a few books on the subject). M believes she can say anything, so long as she says it with a laugh. On a previous encounter, I had woken up early on my day off, after a late night writing, to help Farmer Ron load the cooling unit into the walk-in. M happened by to borrow a ladder, and when she saw me all sleepy-eyed, she’s exclaimed, “Why don’t you get Matt to help? He’s just standing there looking useless.”

So I take M’s comment about going to college as another jab, and I ask her why she’s such a bee-och. Just kidding. I say, “Well, M, I went to college…twice, actually. I have a master’s degree, and I choose to farm. It’s infinitely more satisfying than sitting in an office all day.” As she continues up the road looking for Farmer Ron with a final giggle, I meditate for a breath, and then think, “So what if I hadn’t gone to college?” and “Why are people so afraid of hard work, anyway?”

I’ll respond to, but not quite answer, that second question, because I think author/activist/farmer Wendell Berry adequately covers the superiority of “vocation” over “occupation.” Dissent magazine reported Berry as once telling a room full of farmers not to run their kids off to college. They had expressed concern that their children come back with too much debt to farm, and he merely told them that vocation, or doing something of use, is more important than occupation, or doing something with a degree. Obviously, higher education provides many other wonderful experiences—social, intellectual and more—that make it worthwhile, but let’s not kid ourselves: College, as we know it, is a business.

Now, on to the question of hard work. How to work and how to value work has become a theme of this blog. For next week, I’m already imagining a piece on the amount of volunteer labor your average organic farm relies on and what that tells us about currency, but for now I’m stuck on a confusion over the difference between working hard and working more. Many of the people I went to college with and most of the “young professionals” I know work more. They busy themselves with career-oriented activities on and off the clock that have them running into meetings late and answering emails three days later. When I was a staff newspaper editor, I constantly told callers and emailers, “I’m on deadline. Can’t talk,” and I didn’t understand how abrupt I sounded until I was on the receiving end.

To my friends: I understand why you work all the time. Trust me. We have so little time to do all the cool things we want to do, to reach our professional goals and visit all those beautiful places before the neighbors, and technology keeps offering new ways to do, DIY ways to do. Plus, we have to pay for that technology and those vacations, and kids are expensive, too. The general feeling is that if we aren’t running around or punching out after dark, we aren’t working; if we aren’t doing the work of two or three people, someone else gladly will. This is the attitude we perpetuate in America—we have more work for fewer people, and we’re afraid if we don’t appear busy, we won’t appear to be working, and appearance truly matters. But in truth, working more just produces stacks of unfinished and unrefined ideas in the wake of the duties that actually appear in our job descriptions. There are exceptions—days that require more of us than others, for instance, and a shortage of labor (or lack of a budget to pay for labor)—but as a rule, I think that we create more work for than we can handle because it makes us feel important, and it gives us hope—“In the midst of this recession, I’m grateful to have so much work.”

Before I get too self-righteous about moving to a farm to work cooperatively, rather than competitively, and how hard work is good for the soul and all that, let me suggest that as an occupation, farming suffers many pitfalls identical to others filled with ambitious people, the one relevant here being the tendency to work more. On plenty of occasions, I have run into well-intentioned projects that have been forgotten and processes that could have been easier had they been attended to sooner. So let me share some of the knowledge of my experience, having worked at ski shops, restaurants, bars, supermarkets, hotels, landscape firms, public relations offices, magazines, newspapers and now a farm: Do what you can, but understand that working more is not the same as working hard. Hard work satisfies; more work possesses. More work might even be narcissistic.

If you’re going to spend your time working, try to find a vocation, but then have the strength and wisdom to acknowledge that you can not and will not do it all by yourself. This might cause you to consider that it, whatever it is, isn’t all about you, and maybe you’ll discover some people more deserving of your time than your work. And there’s got to be some time left to contemplate the divine. I don’t know, because I’m not there, yet, but I am ready to stop basing my value on how much I work.

That’s right, M; I do work hard, but I don’t work more. 

Santa Fe Farmer’s Market Report for August 10

Pat Montoya's Family Orchard

Pat Montoya’s brings white lady peaches, golden delicious apples, red max pears, yellow pears, nectarines, and variety of garden veggies. They also feature choke cherry jam, award-winning I hear, and several other flavors of jams, as well as dried red delicious apples. “To keep cool from the heat, we will have apple cider slushies,” they say.

Freshies of New Mexico

Congratulations to Christopher and Taylor at Freshies. They gave birth to a baby boy on Wednesday, and his name is Beau. Now Luna’s got a playmate. The good news and long nights don’t stop Freshies from bringing a serious peach harvest to market, as well as blackberries and more.

Read more at matthewjirwin.com. Want to let readers know about the goodies you have headed to market? Contact Matthew at matthewji@hotmail.com.

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