My uncool had already been too deeply ingrained by earlier lifestyle choices such as unselfconsciously donning silk shirts with garish indo-paisley patterns in public, wearing large brown Reactolite glasses even after I saw photo evidence of myself, generating treble-digit growth in Brylcream profits and using words like “donning” and “treble-digit” when talking to girls.
Of course I could fling blame around like a limp Belgian in a brothel, but really, I never did anything to help myself. I found it hard to get past being a “nice boy” and was disappointingly regarded as someone who got on well with parents until well into my 20s. I tried the Alternative Grunge look but was handicapped by a love of Scottish rock band Big Country and no matter what brand of hair dye I purchased, just couldn’t get the red colouring to take in my thick black locks. If I stood in a really strong light, one or two friends claimed to be able to see a definite purple tinge but I reckon they were just being generous and besides, they all had to squint which definitely isn’t cool.
Similarly, despite having a number of T-shirts emblazoned with Robert Smith’s mug shot, I wasn’t really gaunt or tormented enough to pull off the Goth look. I was too self-deprecating and had the aforementioned weakness for paisley that clearly ruled out becoming a sharp dressing wide boy. So, without a strong aesthetic claim to coolness, I wasn’t left with much else on which to build popularity. Until very recently my sense of humour played out mainly in my own head. What’s more, an unhealthy aptitude for working on spreadsheets and playing Elite on the BBC Microcomputer solidified my geek credentials. Inevitably, I gave up trying to be cool at a young age.
Slowly over the years, my rejection of wanting to be cool seems to have helped me to regain some measure of it. It seems that if you’re not that bothered one way or the other, then that’s pretty cool. It’s the kind of logic that just batters my head which is why I thought I’d feel more at home with farming. After all, anyone who wears blue overalls, big wellies and keeps their hands warm inside a cow’s vagina on a chilly day can’t hope to be cool, can they? Surely they would welcome a man with aspirations for paisley-patterned headwear and the latest in neoprene wellies.
But surprisingly, it turns out that farmers have their own cool crowd and right now, I’m certainly not part of it. Earlier this week I finished day 2 of a Grow Your Farm Profits workshop. Now for us that isn’t particularly difficult since we don’t have any profits at all. When asked how I could improve my farm profitability by 25%, my answer was “sell something”. I think that set the tone for the workshop. It was further reinforced while doing the SWOT analysis of our operations when the facilitator asked for my weaknesses. In what should have been a line from the Blues Brothers, I replied “no skills, no experience, no crops and no business plan.” I kind of spoiled it by adding, “Oh, but I have a tractor and 6 chickens.”
Except that was a lie, because Drippy Bum the Chicken hopped off this mortal coil a few weeks ago, bored of waiting for me to do the deed and leaving behind a faint smell of failure. We’re now dangerously close to parity on the number of roosters to hens in our little flock. If we lose another laying hen, I’ll have to think about repainting the coop with a rainbow, adding some nice drapes to the windows and piping in Elton John’s greatest hits.
What was apparent from the course is that I’m an impostor. The Canadian government (and hence other farmers) don’t recognize me as a farmer until I generate $7,000 in revenue from farming. And until I’m one of them, I’m just not that agro-cool. They weren’t mean about it, but it was in the air that I’m still playing while the big boys do the serious work.
Haunted by my lack of cool as a youth, I was determined to become part of The In Crowd as quickly as possible. I’ve spent the last week working myself into a frenzy thinking about how we can productionize our farm, start a CSA, rear a dozen or so hogs, build facilities for 300 broiler chickens and 100 laying chickens, start making mead and bring a large greenhouse on stream while working full time and having little in the way of disposable cash.
The thing is, $7,000 isn’t a lot of money in the great scheme of things but earning it from farming when you have no skills, experience, crops or business plan is a tad challenging. It works out to be nearly 500 meat chickens or 20 acres of wheat, twenty or so pigs or twenty-five families signing up for a CSA. It represents a significant investment of time, which is probably why the government set it in place. After all, they wouldn’t want to encourage people to start a new farm, would they? Given the lack of programs about how to establish a new farm business, I had assumed the farming industry were trying to protect access to subsidies of such vast proportions they had previously only been given to the French. The handouts given to Canadian farmers couldn’t be made available to just anyone with a tractor and 6 (sorry, make that 5) chickens could they? Unfortunately, like so many things in life I discovered there was nothing for free and besides, what remained was only available to real farmers.
Then, like a smack in the face with a soggy bagel, Emma reminded me of what we’re trying to do. It isn’t to become a megafarm or global business empire. It was to have a few pigs, make some brain-destroyingly strong alcohol, subsidise our food with home-grown produce and try not to look like startled hobos. It was to unplug from the mainstream as much as possible. To put the metaphorical finger up to the norm and enthusiastically embrace being just a little bit weird. It wasn’t to be cool or intimate with cows on cold days. It was to do things our own way, with hopefully a bit of fun and style.
So, I’ve shelved the more ambitious plans that were brewing and decided to scale things back for 2012. Instead, this will be a year of consolidation and experimentation. A year in which we recharge and do things no one else would do. Perhaps, like in my youth, I’ll find that being a cool farmer isn’t that important after all and in doing so, find some cool anyway.