If You're Going to Farm, Sign a Prenup
And other agricultural advice for wedding season
Hello Big Team!
Damn y’all. I am just so tired. That’s the whole update from me this week.
The Season for Weddings and Farming
It’s always seemed odd to me that we start marriages with a big, exciting party, where everyone congratulates you. I’ve seen so many friends strive for and obsess about their wedding, craving the personal and collective validation of their relationship, their choices, their success in life, the enticement of a best-day-of-your-life celebration helping them avoid thinking too critically about what comes after, about what marriage will actually mean for them, their partner, and their lives once the party is over. I’ve always thought the courtroom was a more fitting wedding setting for helping remind us what a marriage is most of the time — a deal, a contract, and a negotiation, forged with love, yes, but carrying with it many duties and obligations, some physical or emotional, others legal or financial.
To me there’s something beautiful about the idea of shedding the gaudy bouquets, the dated veils, and the things borrowed and blue, and replacing them an organized binder and a good humored Justice of the Peace. It feels more honest and intimate not to rattle off vague “richer and poorer” promises, but to present to a partner a deeply considered explanation of how you want to live, where the boundaries of that life are, and how you envision sharing in that together. Then of course, the counter offer. A gentle and loving back and forth, clarifications made, fine print crafted, terms of renegotiation outlined. And then a handshake and a round of signatures.
Maybe it seems cold and unromantic, without the twinkling fairy lights and the father-daughter dance and the locking of eyes from opposite ends of the aisle. But it’s always seemed to me that, on the worst days of a marriage, there will be no fairy lights. No matter how in love you were when you saw one another in clothes and faces you’ll never wear again, it won’t save you when you’re broke and sick and begrudging and don’t know how to keep going. But the binder might. And if it can’t, the binder might help you break apart without destroying each other.
These are some of the things I thought about while sweltering at a mid-July wedding outside of Baltimore last weekend. But it’s also the kind of advice I’ve heard and repeated from some of the smartest and most enduring farmers I’ve known.
Farming, in a lot of ways, is like marriage. It has a simple, uncomplicated definition that lays out some basic actions and responsibilities, but in practice, it’s actually an extraordinarily complex and undefinable system in which no two versions are quite alike. Farming and marriage share a similar problem as well— both involve an idealization of a relatively tiny element that draws way more people in than are truly ready to take on the commitment. For marriage, this element is the wedding, in farming, this element is usually some combination of “being your own boss,” “working outside with your hands,” and/or “feeding the community.”
Like a wedding, the chance to do each of these things is often wonderful, but getting to a place where they can be done meaningfully and well requires a lot of work. Being your own boss means you’re a manager now, responsible not only for self-starting, but for creating structure for yourself and other workers the balances efficiency and their wants and needs and then holding yourself and others accountable to it. Working outside with your hands might be a given this time of year, but for every hour working with your hands, most successful farmers I know spend 1-3 hours in front of a computer; planning, budgeting, and adjusting. And for the few hours a week during the season that farmers get to put food into the hands of their community, thousands more were spent bringing that food to life.
Most farmers that I’ve met who got into farming to maximize their time in the field with their hands in the dirt have found being successful farm owners sorely disappointing on that count. Running a financially stable small business, they find, isn’t about the technical farming skills or self-sacrifice nearly as much as it is about knowing the numbers, being a good manager, and doing what the business needs rather than what their emotions demand.
To be fair, I am neither married nor a farmer. But I have witnessed both marriages and farms (and farm marriages) fall apart because the moth flame of the wedding or the idyllic elements of farming brought people together before they had fully appreciated the extent of what they were agreeing to. And that’s what got me thinking about the binder, about the people I know who have a plan, not just to abstractly promise to stay together through hardship, but who have laid out different major scenarios and determined how they plan to navigate them. Commonly in marriage, this document is called a prenuptial agreement— and is mostly a mainstay amongst the wealthy as a way to ensure that finances are secure in the case of divorce. But in my mind, this downer of a document has a place in most, if not all, marriage and farms.
Boundaries are good. Talking about boundaries before they are broached is good. Thinking about the best case and the worst case scenarios, and planning to deal with both, is good.
Read This Week
Extraordinary reporting by Big Teammate Leah Douglas.
#FarmArt: Farming Video Games
I have to start this section by admitting that I don’t really get video games. Like I understand that they can be an art form like any other kind of medium, and that billions of people on Earth think they’re amazing. I am, in fact, living my life intimately connected to a human with a Bachelors degree in Fine Arts for Video Game Design. But I think for myself, animation is tough (my uncanny valley is maybe a little wider and deeper than normal), and the idea of having to continuously make decisions and explore often stressful (if imaginative) environments as a method of relaxation is just… not for me.
But I’m clearly in the minority here, because not only do people love video games, there’s a whole community of people who love farming video games. And I’m not talking about Farmville or Animal Crossing, I’m talking about this full-on farming simulator.
This video was actually sent to me several weeks ago by Friend of the Big Team and Human I am a Fan Of Adam Calo (who’s agricultural writings/substack can be found here), and I’ve been sitting on it for a while trying to think of, well, what exactly I think of this.
I finally got around to doing the thing that actually leads to good, original writing and thinking— reading the writings of others (a good reminder that we do, quite literally, nothing alone). A quote I found particularly fascinating in all of this:
“Have you never dreamt of becoming a farmer? Most kids want to be a farmer when they are young. Becoming a farmer is not possible without the funds or the training. If you fail to farm profitably and end up incurring a heavy loss, it can be near impossible to recover. Hence, no one gets to live out that dream. Through farming simulators, you get to live out the fantasy of becoming a farmer.” —KD Malen, Gamespace.com
For an article written by a gaming reporter, this is a surprisingly prescient listicle blurb (a phrase I did not ever imagine writing). First, their declaration that “Most kids want to be a farmer when they are young.” I’d love to know if this is just KD, extending a personal dream blanket over the whole world of children, or if this is just point number nine on the list and their tired. Either way, I’d have to challenge that conclusion. I do not think that most kids want to grow up to farmers. I’d actually guess very few do.
The next phrases are more crucial. “Becoming a farmer is not possible without the funds” is not a phrase I’d expected to hear from a layman. In my experience, it does not occur to most people who are interested in farming that wealth is a pre-condition to starting a farm. But it’s exciting to see it recognized here! The next sentence is not unique to farming. It is true of all businesses, always. But the next sentence is the one that got me. “Hence, no one gets to live out that dream.” I don’t know whether the word “hence” or the one words “no one” are the more interesting here, but needless to say, KD, and apparently the people who make farming video games, understand that the “fantasy of becoming a farmer” is more about an idealized version of the work than the real experience.
But all of the imperfect reasons why the gaming masses (and in some cases, even farmers) come home after a long day to play a farming game, I think there’s also a few reasons that are to our credit. I think our craving to learn about growing plants and about tools that are the extension of tools humans have been perfecting for thousands of years makes sense. And I think the craving to do that in a world where bad luck and the natural world aren’t constantly reminding us, consciously or unconsciously, about our own fallibility and unavoidability of death, makes sense. “Farming” under the ideal conditions of the farming simulator is, I guess, like farming in the garden of Eden. Is that good for us? Or bad? Neutral?
I am, to my own surprise, going to argue that it’s good. I think this because these games create access to a knowledge that is pretty hard to learn, whether you’re born in an agricultural family or not— that there is nothing inherent about the work of farming, conventional or otherwise, that creates virtue. Planting seeds, tending crops, and caring the animals and equipment, virtually or in real life, doesn’t change who you are as a person. It doesn’t make you better, more patriotic, more moral, than anyone else. Neither a job nor a hobby informs a full identity. The more people who understand that about farming, I’d say, the better.
Last F(ew) Thing
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Last Friday we treated ourselves to the Disney+ version of Black Widow. It was pretty good I guess, but this Atlantic article really put a finger on why it wasn’t quite excellent. The season finale of Loki was way more satisfying in my opinion, but does anyone else feel like the emotional arc of this Loki is a little too… accelerated? Whatever, I’m hear for the love story. I also started and finished season two of Never Have I Ever yesterday. It was not as good as season one, I guess? And we’re getting into Atypical, which is an incredibly tough hang like 32% of the time but is mostly really fun. Are you watching anything good? Any recommendations?
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