Woodcraft 4: The Most Important Job

5 07 2014

Bartholomew is my middle name.  My mother selected it because its Hebrew means “son of the furrows”.  In other words, it refers simply to farming.  My mother came from a farm, her folks were farmers, and in no way was she embarrassed about it.

A number of kids in my school thought poorly of farmers, this despite the number of farms and farm families surrounding the community.  They would say, “Aw, you’re just a farmer,” or, “Aw, your dad is just a farmer.”  They meant you were about as common and worthless as dirt.  They failed to realize, of course, that soil — dirt that is not inside the wrong place, such as a house or an engine — is one of the four most valuable resources on the planet.  The other three are light, air, and water.  As my mother used to say, think about it.

People often ask children the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

My mother would sometimes add the challenge, “What is the single most important job in this world?”

I could give any of a number of answers that came to my small mind, as influenced by whatever I was reading in books and seeing on television.

“Police officer.  Fireman.”

“No.”

“Doctor.  Nurse.”

“No.”

“Soldier.  A general or field marshal.”

“No.”

“A king.  An emperor.  The President of the United States.”

“No.”

I could even venture, “A minister.  A missionary.”

“No.”

“What, then?”

My mother would say, “Farming.”

“Farming?”

“No farmers, no food.  No grain, no meat, no fruit, no vegetables, no milk.  No farmers, no fiber.  No cotton, no wool, no flax.  Where would we be without food and clothing?”

I had to agree.  It wasn’t until some years later that I could add, “Or we would have to try doing an awful lot of hunting and fishing.  And we would have to pump and process an awful lot more oil to make plastics. That is, unless we could figure out a way how to make cloth from dirt.  Soil, that is.  Or subsoil, to be a little more precise.  Minerals.  For glass and ceramics.” 

In coming years, high-tech agri-preneurs may perfect the farming of algae for use as plastic and fuel and food.

Back to my mother’s challenge.  My father once added, “The government has the U.S. Forest Service in the Department of Agriculture.  If we are to think of trees as crops, then you could also say, in a way: no farmers, no wood fiber for buildings and their furniture.  No tree farmers, no wood, no shelter.  At least, there would be a lot less shelter.  Or shelters would be much different.  All stone or brick or concrete or glass.”

I didn’t think of trees as being farm crops.  Not all trees, anyway.  Maybe orchard trees.  Apples, pears, cherries.  Walnuts.  But most trees?  They grew themselves.

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