It took civilization thousands of years to get us off the farm, & Facebook just one year to send us back. ~ George Takei
I resisted for at least a week. Maybe two, or even three. Come “farm with your friends,” the banner taunted. Every time I launched Facebook and read the updates from my friends, their farming progress would dot my screen, luring me to join them. Like a lemming over the cliff, I shortly thereafter planted my first crop. I don’t remember exactly when. Farmville, the Facebook farming application that has swept more than seventy-four million fans into its grasp, launched in June 2009, so it was sometime shortly after that. Probably July. Since then, I have been a faithful part of a daily farm bureau reaching around the globe who log on, at the rate of twenty-eight million times per day, to farm their little piece of digital Zynga earth. At last count, I have planted 152,673 crops. I am addicted.
My addiction comes naturally; farming is in my blood, no matter how much I wanted to leave it behind me. I grew up in a small farm town in the middle of Illinois, where my dad was a farmer as was his father before him. The farm was strictly crops–corn, wheat, and beans, planted with predictable regularity. We never raised traditional farm animals, like cows or pigs, though I had friends who did. Occasionally, my father seemed quietly disappointed in not having a son, so that he could pass along the farm to another generation. Like his name, that legacy would stop with me.
My father taught me tasks when he needed my help. For my third birthday, he gave me a long magic wand which he claimed would search out elusive buried treasure. For hours, I swept it back and forth across the gravel floor of the barn, just like he showed me. Occasionally, pieces of pirate booty, encased in ordinary dirt and grime to hide it from riff-raff and thieves, would fly up from the gravel to latch, with magnetic magic, to the end of my wand. A night soaking in a barrel of used oil revealed a shiny piece of silver to my young pirate glee. Years later, lurking in the nuts and bolts aisle, I learned that pirate silver could be purchased for pennies a piece at the local hardware store. As I grew older, the tasks grew in responsibility. After I was taller than the soybeans in May, I learned to handle a hoe and walk the half-mile rows, taking out weeds and stray corn so his fields wouldn’t look like succotash from the highway. I had to be that tall so as not to disappear among the waist-high soybeans. That first summer, I was just a hat and a hoe to those driving by on the highway. My non-farm friends thought I was talking about my dog when I told them I spent the summer “walking beans.” Later, but still long before I got a learner’s permit, let alone a driver’s license, I handled a tractor with skill, if not grace. The various levers and pedals fascinated me, but I was mystified by the changing of gears. One early attempt was only a few inches shy of disaster when I nearly took out the farm’s propane tank. “Try not to hit anything you can’t replace,” was my dad’s sage advice. “Or that explodes.”
Raised in a household where John Deere green was a decorative color scheme, I once asked my father why he always bought Deere tractors. He shrugged, “Dutch sells Deeres.” “Dutch” graduated high school in the same class as my father in 1930, at the start of the Great Depression. He also happened to own the local Deere dealership, two villages to the north. My father’s simple statement explained a lifelong brand loyalty as well as a friendship. The same logic applied to the family cars; his classmate “Pony” owned the hometown Ford dealership and was certainly more trustworthy than the “Class of ’52 kid” who ran the Chevy place. Recently, I purchased some equipment in Farmville, so that I could plow, plant, and harvest my digital dirt with greater efficiency. At the time, the only tractor choices were girly pink or International Harvester red. I felt an immediate sense of disloyalty, as though purchasing non-green farm equipment somehow violated the family honor. I bought a John Deere coffee cup and a tractor-a-day calendar to keep next to the computer, just in case.
I don’t remember the moment I decided to leave the farm behind me. I doubt there was a single moment, probably more a combination of things. It wasn’t because I didn’t enjoy farm life. I love the rhythm and flow of the seasons, watching plants grow and mature in nature’s own time. I remember spending hours driving a tractor up and down the field, living many lives in my head as I daydreamed of things yet to be. I remember the kindness of friends and small-town neighbors, people you spent your entire life living beside. Sharing local news over coffee at the local restaurant or in line at the grocery store. Knowing who was on vacation because their pew was empty on Sunday morning. But there were many things I didn’t like about farm life, too. The hard scrabble for money when it was a bad year for the crops, the daily unpredictability of Mother Nature. The long hard days spent putting in crops in the spring and harvesting them in the fall. The solitude, the loneliness, the knowledge that most often my father was by himself, working under his own tightly run organization and by his own rules, and the responsibilities he carried because of that. Perhaps that is why his shoulders were so broad, and so bowed.
I return to my digital farm more regularly than I care to admit. Part of the reason is, like the seventy-plus million other players, I respond to the competitive aspects of the game. I work hard to earn my ribbons and awards. I spend time building my farm so that it looks like something that could function in the world outside the computer, trying not to mix my soybeans with my morning glories or my pigs with my chickens. At least the beans don’t need to be digitally walked. I can tell a lot about my Farmville neighbors by looking at their farms. Some of my old high school friends, who grew up like me with farming all around them, rotate their crops with skill and have digital acreage that looks, well, like an actual farm. Others, I suspect, have never set foot on a farm. Their fields are put together like a can of Veg-All, and their animals lined up like boot-camp soldiers for inspection.
And it is during moments like that when, just for second, I’m back on the farm with my father, walking row after row of beans and learning all he has to teach me. As I click to plant another row of digital crops, the faintest trace of wet, loamy earth teases my nostrils and I feel my feet sink into the evenly turned dirt between the rows. When I select my un-green digital tractor, I hear the distinctive and almost musical thwump-thump of a John Deere tractor firing up in the distance. As I survey my portion of the Zyngian world of Farmville, I imagine my father looking over my shoulder, wondering how on earth his daughter ended up a farmer.
[Note: This post is #6 of 26 of the April A-to-Z Challenge. Please see the button at the lower left of the page for more information.]