Friday, September 7, 2007

Hard Work Never Hurt Anybody

by Josef Steufer

It is something your grandpa or father would say, usually at the point where you complain about some tedious chore that pales in comparison to a day playing hookie or doing nothing.

"Hard work never hurt nobody," he would calmly say handing you the tools of the trade.

In my case, it would be my mother who say this and then she would follow it up with "Too bad."
after further complaints. Out I would go to weed the garden, rake leaves, split wood, scrub
the floor, whatever needed to be done.

I learned there is a rhythm in hard work. There a steady pace you achieve in the process. A flow. It requires more than a 5 minutes to achieve. In today's microwave world, how often do we actually set about doing a "mindless" hard work chore without wishing it would take less time, be easier to accomplish, that we didn't have to do it at all?

It is one of the keys of sustainability to relish the meditative spirit that hard work induces. Some things cost less when we do them by hand. Sure our time is worth something, but we are not throwing it away by engaging in the long or hard way to do something. I am reminded of story I once read, probably in Reader's Digest.

A grown son would watch his father mow grass with a hand mower and then
rake it up every weekend when he came to visit.

Out of concern for his father's age and health, the son purchased a riding lawn mower with a bag attachment. (I guess this was before the days of mulching mowers). Anyway, the father expressed delight with a bit of bewilderment.

"What do I need this for?" he asked, "There is nothing wrong with my

"Well, Dad," replied the son, "I see you working so hard mowing and raking the grass that I thought you may want to spend your time doing something else, like relaxing."

As the son returned each week to visit, he noticed that his father always seemed to be finishing up mowing the yard as he arrived and each time in the same spot. Thinking something was up, the son came early one day and found his father raking the grass into rows and then piles. He went out to his father.

"Dad, why don't you use the mower I gave you? Don't you like it?
Doesn't it save time?"

"Sure, son. It's a fine mower and does a good job. But something is
missing. Come help and I'll show you."

The father explained how the grass rows were lines of soldiers at the battle of Waterloo. As he raked each unit into position, the son understood that mowing the lawn and raking the grass was less about getting done than enjoying the process of the work.

When I undertake to pack the mulch in bags with a pitchfork by hand and so move the hill from one spot to another I do it from the necessity of not having a box blade for my tractor yet, but at the same time I am indulging in the meditative rhythm of hard work.

Meditative hard work is part of the romance of farming. Hard work is also what makes small farming sustainable. I know I can move mulch with a pitchfork. I know I can scrape together the cash from selling at the market to purchase one or borrow one and somehow move things around by hook or by crook. I do not have to go into debt to do it.

Modern farming, industrial agriculture, is predicated upon huge cash outlays for the latest equipment. These cash outlays are usually in the form of loans. When a small farm does work by hand, they avoid the large cash loans that large farms depend on. This often means their produce will cost a little more. But it's more honest, better quality, fresher. It is bought and paid for by the sweat of the brow. Nobody owes anyone anything here. The farm product can be freely given and freely acquired. The economic impact is on the positive side of the balance sheet every time.

What is the value of doing something by hand that restores the mind and spirit and in the end enhances the life of the person who buys it? Is it 60 cents a pound or 1.20 a pound? The next time you are at the grocery store, notice the price difference between organic and conventional products. Know that when you buy organic, you are paying a more honest price for a better product in a situation where everyone and everything does better in the long run. You are paying for something we all can afford.

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