Friday, June 9, 2017

"Just" becoming a farmer. . . you probably can't afford it.

I went to work as a lawyer in May, 1990.  I still work where I started working then, and in actuality I started working there (here?) in May, 1989, as a "summer associate". 

On my first day I reported, probably about twenty pounds lighter than I currently weigh, wearing a Brooks Brothers suit and a red, while and blue Brooks Brothers regimental tie.  I haven't been able to fit into that suit for years and years (I think I gave it to the St. Vincent DePaul Society actually) but the tie, being a really good one, keeps on keeping on.

On that first day the first person I really interacted with was an old secretary who served as office manager.  She'd held that role forever.  I recall she asked some question about my being ready to start, and then commented:
Well, who knows, you might end up just wishing you'd become a farmer.
The comment struck me even then as I recall thinking, at age 27, that if I had the resources to have become a farmer, that's what I would have done. But I didn't.

The point of this entry here today isn't to complain about the law, or careers or anything like that, if that's where this seems to be going.  Rather, its to note that if you aren't born into agriculture at this point, you probably can't get in it.  Nonetheless farming as a sort of default American occupation remains fixed in people's minds.

Now, that comment made sense coming from the person it came from, sort of. She was elderly at the time.  I don't know off hand how old she was when the comment was made, but she was of the World War Two generation and had grown up in small town Texas and to her entering farming probably still seemed like something a person could do as a "just" occupation.  That was barely true at that time, however, and not true shortly thereafter.  I can't say when it quit being a viable career move, due to the cost of land, but it was quite some time back.  I'd guess that in my region it was likely by the 1940s, although in bad economic times there would be brief exceptions.  As late as the 1970s, during a certain collapse, local ranchers were able to pick up land to add to their ranches, for a brief time, affordably.  And my father and I nearly did that as late as the early 1990s in a certain instance.  And I do have cattle and land, but I don't have so much that I could simply "just" be a rancher.

All that is gone now for the average person.  However, and this is what motivated this post, some still seem to believe the opposite.

I'm not sure what motivates that belief, other perhaps than sheer ignorance on the value of agricultural land, even now you'll hear statements from people who believe you can just buy a ranch or farm, and by "just buy", I mean an average middle class person.

Now, keep in mind, what I mean by that is a real economic unit, not a hobby unit.  People do confuse the two, particularly if they're somewhat inclined towards self delusion or if they're outside the field and commenting about something they just don't know.  Small acreages, at least in most places, aren't farms.  And people who imagine things like "you can grow artisanal Aurochs" or "you can grow Passion Fruit through hydroponics!" likely haven't tried either.

Auroch bull. . . you won't be growing these on your five acre plot.

And yet in spite of this, this myth rolls on.  I've seen it on television within the last decade, for example, in one instance where a Specialist 4 proposes to get out of the Army and move to Wyoming and ranch, bringing along his wife and children.

Well, E-4 pay in the Army would perhaps allow you to store up enough money to buy Farm Simulator 17, but that's about it.

Indeed, just recently I read comments from somebody who was arguing, basically, that entering farming in this day and age is really easy, as land is so cheap.

Oh really?

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