“Never put in a fence post if there’s a full moon – by golly, it will pop right out!” As farmers, we live our lives by the rule of thumb. “Plant pumpkins on Memorial Day weekend and corn should be knee high by the Fourth of July”!
The rules can be followed, changed, and broken based on a person’s upbringing, culture, and outside influences. They’re simply assumptions, experiences, and stereotypes. My rule book is full of white out in the “when to plant” section, sarcastic comments in the margin about Ball canning recipes and botulism, and Tim’s motivational speech on replay in my head, “Who cares what the rule of thumb is? Just do it… what’s the worst that can happen? They eat ya?”
Probably the most interesting stereotype has been the public’s rule of thumb for organic farmers. They never eat conventional or processed food – only organic and local, they only support local businesses and wouldn’t be caught dead in a place like Walmart, they’re liberal (personally and politically), they don’t drink or smoke (and if they do…. it’s an organic, local, microbrew followed by a joint grown on the farm *editor’s note to the Portage Co. DEA: I see you fly over weekly, consider this comment a stretch of the truth to humor my readers*), and they’re prepared to chain themselves to a fracking drill rig if it ever tries to poke a hole anywhere near their farm. So yesterday I went to Walmart to buy a case of Bud Light, two sandwiches from Subway and a Diet Pepsi for the ride home when I ran into one of our better customers. I approached her to say hello and she darted to guard her shopping cart that had a loaf of Schwebel’s bread and conventional bananas poking out. She was embarrassed and clearly surprised to see me. I’m not sure what she was worried about, wasn’t I the one breaking the rules?
A few weeks ago we travelled to Pennsylvania to have our soybeans professionally roasted for our new line of stone ground poultry feed. When we pulled up, I saw two old guys leaning against an Allis Chalmers tractor. One was wearing overalls and a John Deere hat (my kindred spirit) and the other was wearing coveralls and a Farm Bureau hat. I was sure they were large scale conventional farmers and I knew how the conversation was going to go, “so you’re an organic farmer, are ya?…” He looks to his partner, winks, and says, “I reckon she uses horses to plow her fields……” I would then passionately rattle off our vision (and extensive equipment list) and then they would figuratively pat me on the head and wish me good luck with my “garden”. I got out of the truck, introduced myself, asked a few questions and avoided small talk. One man started roasting our soybeans with Tim and the other man leaned against our truck, staring at me, “So you have an organic farm?” Here we go.
And this is where the story unexpectedly changes. As I shared our story, I realized he was engaged. He was asking poignant questions, listening intently, nodding in agreement and smiling. It turns out he has a small dairy, he’s been raising his herd naturally and organically for 15 years, and even drinks the ever controversial raw milk. When I asked him if he has considered organic certification, his response was simple, “No way.” No way? “Nope. I’d lose all my friends.” Lose all of your friends? He explained that his conventional buddies that surround his property tolerate his practices, but organic certification would be the tipping point – he was too old to fight it and, “anyways…. I like hanging out and having coffee with them sometimes.”
I often wonder if my infrequent trips to Walmart or the store bought pizza in our freezer will turn off some customers. We may not follow all the rules of thumb for organic farmers, but we are genuine and there is nothing to hide at Breakneck Acres. We hope that this will be the reason customers support us and keep coming back. And the “rule of thumb”? Some say it used to mean that it was legal to beat your wife with a switch, so long as the switch was no thicker than the husband’s thumb. Tim’s got some big hands…. so we’ve agreed we really don’t need any “rules of thumb” at the farm!