“I can’t wait to go back to bed” – my first thought most mornings. I stop my alarm almost before it starts. Hitting snooze is tempting, but too dangerous. I don’t leave myself any extra time; the extra minutes of sleep are well worth the rush. Quarter to six, my eyes open, I take a deep breath and swing out of bed. I put on water to boil while I go to the bathroom, and when I come out, I am ready to go. A quick piece of toast and coffee in hand, and I am out the door.
As I drive up the Meadows to the farm I work at, angsty questions roll through my head: why am I doing this? There has to be an easier job, one where I might feel rested at least one day a week.
Pink light is hitting the east facing peaks and spraying a soft alpenglow into the valley. Cows graze in a large field veiled by a fine mist.
I pull into work, put my boots on and walk out into the field. First thing is harvest. We need to get the vegetables off the field and into the cooler before the sun is too high. As I pull kale leaves off their stalks and tie them into bunches, my mental fog begins to lift. Looking around at the walls of the valley, Mt. Currie at one end, and the Hurley at the other, I forgive myself for the weight of my angst.
What is work? For most of us, it’s having something to do that we don’t want to. We spend our days going off to an office or a store or a field to earn enough money to play, to do the things we do want to do. It is a trade-off we accept, day after day.
If you have a job you love, you never work a day in your life, so the cliché goes. But it is more nuanced than that. Love is not a purely positive emotion. It is an act, difficult and requiring effort; at times it is defined by tolerating unpleasant things precisely because the positives are so pure. And maybe without those unpleasant things, the positives would not be so deep, and the beauty of a morning in the valley would be wasted.
Life as a farmhand falls within that cliché. When I told people I would be working on a farm, their initial reply was often, “that’s hard work,” with the skeptical gaze of imagining the hardships of manual labour. I knew it would be difficult, and my chronic exhaustion proves it, but the positives far outweigh the opportunity to get more sleep.
The physical aspect of the job pays for itself; despite fatigue, my body feels strong and capable, and I count this as a blessing. I consider myself fortunate to be outside every day, in a place people drive for hours just to look at. The early hours are my favourite of the day. My mind feels as clear as the air, crisp and refreshing. I spend my weekends hiking to places to find this feeling, and I have it every day at work.
Maybe more important than anything in a good job is what the work is towards. At the farm, every transplant I put in the ground, and every weed I pull out, helps grow food that will feed the community. Compared to most of my jobs in the past, where my effort is often aimed at something I have no connection with, harvesting the food I will eat for dinner and that I saw at every step of the way, feels like a religious experience. And I am lucky enough to be paid for it.
This sort of thoughtful work attracts characters with unique wisdom at their disposal. Conversations fill the air, and may interfere with the work at hand. But at lunch or in the small gaps between jobs, new ideas are openly exchanged and my own beliefs are questioned. Smart people are told they should be lawyers or doctors or scientists, but here they are farming.
In the process, I have picked up indispensable skills that would have been unavailable to me from a seat behind a desk. I am confident I could start my own garden and feed myself. I would face unforeseen challenges, I’m sure, but working to solve problems is part of the fun.
Not all work is paid for, at least not in dollars and cents. We will always need to do things we are not keen on doing to survive, but that does not mean we must suffer. Growing food is work, and leaves you as fulfilled as what you put on your plate. After I eat dinner and get ready for bed, I am filled with a sense of satisfaction a day in bed could never give me.