Like many farmers, I sit on the fence between the farm lifestyle and the modern one. More than half of America’s farmers work a job off the farm to make ends meet, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
In 1929, 6% of farmers worked off the farm. By 1947, it rose to 16.5%. In 1997, it was 33%. In 2002, it was 55% and grew to 65% by 2007. Today, it’s much harder to support yourself just with a farm. Regulations make farming expensive and the use of modern technology that is supposed to make farming so much more efficient and productive now swallow farmers up in a manure lagoon of debt. The average chicken farmer, for example, is half a million bucks in debt and only makes around $18,000 a year. Yikes.
Another problem, and what I think is the biggest, is the modern lifestyle. There’s a lot of nice stuff out there and we want it all. Compared with Americans in 1957, we own twice as many cars, eat out twice as often and own all sorts of other things that humans haven’t had since the beginning of time–big-screen TVs, microwave ovens, SUVs and handheld wireless devices, etc. But are we any happier?
“Compared with their grandparents, today’s young adults have grown up with much more affluence, slightly less happiness and much greater risk of depression and assorted social pathology…Our becoming much better off over the last four decades has not been accompanied by one iota of increased subjective well-being.” David G. Myers, PhD, author of the article, which appeared in the American Psychologist (Vol. 55, No. 1).
Now many farmers are very un-materialistic. I’d venture to say that all the successful small farmers are. But I know a lot of wanna-be farmers who can’t live without their gadgets and new cars and nice clothes and everything that the modern lifestyle demands. I myself used to be in this category. Over the years as we decided to make a profitable farm our goal, we’ve realized that many things have to go and we’ve been able to let go of them.
The simpler our lifestyle becomes, the happier we are about it. This week, the whole family has been on vacation. We’ve worked in the garden and canned jam and it’s been wonderful. Slow and peaceful. Which would you prefer?