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Editorial: Farming is an honorable ad needed calling

I should have been a farmer.

Even as a child, I loved working in the family vegetable garden. I didn’t mind using a hoe to chop weeds, although later in life I learned that just isn’t a pleasant chore.

I remember well using an old hand tobacco setter to put tomato plants into the ground. The hand-held, simple metal machine had two compartments, each somewhat pointed at the end, with a lever to open those compartments. I would jab the pointed end into the ground, open one side and let a tomato plant slide down into the ground; then open the other side to let water in. Sometimes, they went in perfectly. Other times, all it took was a nudge with the foot (I don’t remember ever wearing shoes while working in the garden as a youngster) to get the plant upright.

It worked well, especially if you had a lot of plants. Even as a child, bending over wasn’t one of my strong suits. I still have that old setter, though unfortunately I modified it over the years to keep it working. I wish now it was in its original condition.

One thing — or a combination of similar things — led me in a different direction.

Ball. Baseball. Basketball. Handball. Tennis ball. It didn’t matter. I was more interested in playing ball than learning the skills needed to become a farmer.

You see, it takes more than love of the land and a love of watching things grow to become a farmer. You have to be a mechanic in order to fix your own equipment. My father was a mechanic, and could fix anything with a motor. But I was too busy shooting hoops than allowing him to teach me some real skills.

After all, I was going to be the next Pistol Pete Maravich. Everyone told me so. I had the hair. I had the floppy socks. I had the shoes. I even looked like him. All I could see was a college scholarship and fame and fortune in my future. I think that in the back of their minds, my parents and brother and sisters were seeing the same thing.

That didn’t work out. I played a little school basketball, was even pretty good at it, but there was an attitude problem. Coaches back then wanted a specific look for their players. The long hair like Pistol Pete’s was frowned upon, so I told those coaches trying to turn us kids into robots to take a hike.

It was about that same time I became interested in journalism. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

And my first job out of college was in Benson. There were farms everywhere. Big farms. Little farms. Sweet potatoes. Tobacco. You name it, and someone grew it.

Being in a farming community, much of what I wrote was about farmers or farming. I even won a statewide award for farm reporting.

Fast forward a few years, and I became editor of a monthly farm magazine that covered North and South Carolina. The pay was great. I found it fascinating to travel across two states and talk to farmers of all sorts. But there was the boss. A rich, arrogant, narcissistic man. It took me two days to put the magazine together, and quite well, I might say. It made the boss mad because the person who had the job before me took two weeks to get the job done. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when he demanded the magazine put a politician on the cover who was running for re-election. And I couldn’t write that story; he had a certain way he wanted that politician to be perceived. To say the least, I was gone. At least that boss later went to jail for some of his wrongdoings.

Nowadays, we need local farmers more than ever. Yes, the big farms are needed to feed the masses, but local, small farms can thrive, as well. Feed your neighbors, and then as the business grows, feed the neighbors of those neighbors.

Justin and Holly Miller are doing just that.

The Davie couple had a great tool to help them along the way. The N.C. Farm School.

Now, Davie Cooperative Extension is co-sponsoring the farm school, and it is open to local residents. It’s a terrific way to keep the land you may have inherited in production. Get some tax credits, make a few dollars and have the satisfaction of knowing you are growing something that keeps people alive and healthy. It can be done as a hobby or second job.

Farming has to be one of the world’s oldest professions. We’ve always had to eat, after all.

Those of you with land and time, check out the farm school. We need you.

Mike Barnhardt is the editor of the Davie County Enterprise-Record.