Sunday, June 15, 2014

Enough with the “lifestyle” already…

THIS IS PROBABLY not the kind of thing I’m supposed to say out loud… but maybe it’s time to break the rules.

If I hear one more person say the best thing about being a farmer is the “lifestyle”… I’m going to hurl my not-quite-CWA-perfected sponge cake across the room. Enough with the “lifestyle” already.

Maybe this needs to come with a disclaimer: I love being a farmer. I love being a farmer’s wife. I absolutely adore Burragan, and our sheep and cattle, and I love my famer husband, his farming family, and our farming life. I love being an ambassador for Australian agriculture. I whole heartedly believe this is a fantastic industry with so, so much to offer young people.

But a picture perfect, magazine worthy, smoko-scones-and-sunset-drinks “lifestyle”, farming is not.

I’m sure my “lifestyle” issue has a lot to do with the last six months of my life being totally over the top whinge worthy. There have been some bottom-of-the-barrel, below-low points – though most of them have nothing to do with farming.

I’m also well aware there’s a very fine line between an amusing gripe and a big fat ol’ pity party. (I do hope you’ll put this in the first category.)

I just can’t keep it to myself anymore. Every time I read a news story or blog or answer to an interview question that says farmers farm for the “lifestyle,” it feels like someone sticks a piece of rusty fencing wire straight into the heart of a little pocket-sized Bessie at Burragan voodoo doll.

Because surely I’m not the only farmer who feels like they don’t have a life? Let alone a “lifestyle.”

Farming is a lot of really great things. It’s a profitable business. It’s extremely satisfying. It’s a worldwide NECESSITY. It’s a way to really connect with and enjoy your environment. It’s fabulous fun, and is different to any other career out there.

But let’s get one thing straight. It is a job. Yes, it’s a job we love, but it is a job. I. Am. At. Work. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, almost 365 days a year.

Can you imagine a doctor who actually LIVES at the hospital saying she or he does it for “lifestyle”…. or a lawyer who actually LIVES at the courthouse saying the best bit is the “lifestyle”… or a teacher!?

Maybe I don’t run in the right circles, but - and it must be added, my father is a teacher - I cannot recall ever hearing a teacher say they teach for the “lifestyle.” And as overworked and underpaid as teachers may be, it can’t be denied that they actually get designated holiday periods.

Nope, most teachers teach because it’s inspiring and interesting and fun and makes a difference to people’s lives. And I just can’t get my head around why the same is not often enough said by farmers. Why do we play the “lifestyle” card?

In just the last few months, my fabulous farming lifestyle has consisted of more than 15,000 (make no mistake about the number of zeroes in that number) kilometres of driving to the city, because our “lifestyle” means we live so far away from its necessary services.

In summer, the lifestyle entails groundhog days of constant water problems, animal rescues, fire threats, fodder feeding, deadly-venomous snakes and hot, hot heat.

In winter, the lifestyle means frozen water pipes, fencing in the sleeting rain, and the excruciating sting of cold knuckles accidentally hitting hard metal in the climb across the sheep yard fences for lamb marking.

During shearing, the pre-dawn to post-dusk lifestyle means I might only get to spend an hour a day, max, with my farmer husband… and we’re both guaranteed to be tired and cranky.

During drought, the lifestyle means constant, constant, constant stress and worry and total helplessness.

And during the good seasons, the lifestyle means we are so freaking busy trying to make a go of it that we don’t even have time to stop and smell the Salvation Jane.

Sure, maybe there are some farmers out there who manage to juggle all this with an actual, real lifestyle… Good on them. I envy them. I also imagine they’re the minority.

I’m not denying that farming comes with a certain way of life. But mostly that’s busy, hard, and tiring.

Sometimes – usually the few times a year friends come to visit - there are scones at smoko time, and drinks at sunset.

But I’m not convinced those so incredibly infrequent “lifestyle” moments are that must-be-total-magic thing that keeps farmers farming…

for entire lifetimes…

and generations…

upon generations…

and generations.

Are you?