Tom Allen, my favourite CBC broadcaster (along with Stuart Maclain) also writes a CBC column, and spoke today about the government’s decision to close down prison farms. These are farms worked by prisoners to produce food, thus taking some of the burden off society and providing prisoners with daily work and some skills. Tom makes his own great case for why these farms should stay, and one commentator added to this by suggesting that the food could also be sent to food banks, which would ease some of their struggles too.
Apparently the government feels that prisoners would be better off learning more “contemporary” skills. Maybe so, but I don’t think they should dismiss the farming altogether. Living on a farm, in a rural community, I see firsthand some of the many benefits of an agrarian lifestyle.
For one thing, farming gets you moving, gets you outside, and gets you in shape. It’s physical labour, no doubt, and it can be tiring, but it also calms the mind and provides great mental clarity when, at the end of the day, you sit back with a rewarding sense of a job well done. Farmers don’t have insomnia, and they never wonder if they could have done something more productive with their time.
For another, farming is hands on and gives a connection to the land. To see newborn life emerge, to see shoots struggle valiantly through frost, is to see the wonder of the universe; to watch things grow is to understand the delicate balance of nature; to be part of all of this is to foster a spiritual awareness of the world around you.
For a third, farming develops a very strong work ethic. Reap what you sow is not an old adage for nothing, and all those moral stories you hear about the grasshopper who sang all day, and the little red hen, stem from the lessons of agriculture, and are ingrained in the farming philosophy.
That’s why farmers farm. It’s a lifestyle choice combining physical, mental, spiritual and emotional benefits: to feel good about what you have accomplished, to be part of the world around you knowing the impact of the choices you make on the land; and to recognize the primordial nature of what you do.
If all that farming provides is a moment of solitude with the sun on your back, a good night’s sleep after an honest day’s work, and a good work ethic, it is beneficial. But that is not all. Farming skills may not be “contemporary” or sophisticated, but with solid farming skills, you can always find work if you are willing.