Rant: I am NOT a Bumpkin!

image via thecountrymouseinthecity.com
I knew farm life involved struggle. And in many ways, I was prepared: hard work, long days, harsh weather, unpredictable schedules – these are all challenges I knew we’d wrestle.

The struggle I was unprepared to face is a bit more abstract. It’s a matter of perception, deeply rooted within our culture. It’s a problem with how we judge success, and what we consider achievement. It’s based on stereotypes about class and upbringing and rural living.

My struggle has to do with how people view farmers, and very often, the conclusions they draw about me.

I’ll give you an example. I was recently at a party to celebrate a friend’s engagement. Over cocktails, I was introduced to a woman named Carol, an academic type who serves on several local charitable boards. She and I chatted over a drink and parted ways. I nearly forgot about it, until later that week, when I bumped into a former colleague of mine that now works with Carol (let’s call her Angela). The interaction went something like this…

Me: “Hey Angela. Funny running into you here. I actually just met a coworker of yours over the weekend -- Carol.”
Angela: “You know Carol?”
Me: “Yes, I just met her at a mutual friend’s party.”
Angela: “That’s surprising.”
Me: “What’s surprising?”
Angela: “It’s just hard to imagine a party that both you and Carol would be at.”

How am I supposed to interpret this comment? Perhaps in Angela’s mind, I am too busy picking ticks off the livestock to hob knob with the likes of Carol on a Saturday evening. (Also, reality check: Carol is a nice woman, who’s certainly well educated and philanthropic, but she’s not a Kennedy or a Nobel prize winner. She’s a regular person, just like all of us.)

My ego was bruised, as it often is, by these sorts of comments. It’s the same crummy feeling I get when people are surprised to learn my farmer beau went to college, or when some foodie on a mission decides to take out all their frustration about “Big Ag” on us at happy hour.

I know they don’t mean to be hurtful. Before I came into this farming life, I didn’t really get it either. My concept of what it meant to be a farmer was a mash-up of the bearded dudes who peddled artisanal mushrooms at the Union Square Green Market, Old McDonald, and Green Acres reruns. Perhaps I am extra-sensitive to their remarks, because deep down I know I once felt the same way. But I was wrong then, and they are wrong, too.

R is always kind and patient. As for me, I usually force a fake smile and excuse myself, clenching my teeth and fists as I walk away. But here’s what I really want to say to those people, and to the old, closed-minded, cubicle-dwelling version of me:

We are not bumpkins. We are not a movement. We are regular people who work hard and play hard and try to keep the family business alive. Don’t judge our life or our farm based on urban values or trendy ideology that has very little to do with the realities of agriculture. Farms preserve open land, create jobs, and provide food. Farming is hard, honest work, endeavored by passionate, educated, dedicated people. 

I'm trying my best not to care what anyone else thinks. But some days it's a struggle.

Mr Mix (January 20, 2011 at 10:51 AM)  

It is certainly a stereotype that many unassociated with farming have of people who work/live on a farm. You frustration is completely understandable, nice job keeping your cool.

In my opinion I hold folks who do work/live on a farm in high regard and not as the stereotypical "bumpkin". This is partially from being raised in rural VT and knowing some very nice, intelligent, and hard working farmers.

The best thing you could do is prove people with these misconceptions wrong, such sweet justice!

Anonymous –  (April 22, 2011 at 12:50 PM)  

Just started reading your blog this morning....terrific! As a displaced Vermonter living in rural Wyoming, I wish I had some sage advice about the Angelas of the world. They're everywhere. You have a tough thick skin schlepping out to the wood pile at 0-too-early-o'clock in the morning through the deep snow. Take smug comfort in their ignorance and their rigid righteous myopia that confines their little tiny lives and minds.

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