Farming: The occupation of choice for dudes and chicks who want to raise their own food, work out in the sun, be their own boss and slave 18 hours a day so some mustached hipster at a farmer’s market with an iPad under his arm can bruise the shit out of the plums.

On second thought, how are your peaches this year?

“On second thought, how are your peaches this year?”

 

I come from a long line of farmers myself, and I can tell you that not all farmers are grass stalk-chewing old cats who run makeshift booths with half-tan arms and 12 strapping youngins who speak with respect.

There are all kinds of farmers.

Beef farmers.

Christmas tree farmers.

Wind farmers.

Rabbit farmers.

Hookworm farmers.

Solar farmers.

Baby farmers.

That last one is exactly how it sounds.

Salmon farmers.

There were alpaca farmers, but that pyramid scheme has pretty much gone belly up.

“My wool is worth gold and gems.”


And farmers nowadays can be the slick office-y types, like those who use special retina-scanning sunglasses from their Manhattan penthouses to run armies of thresher robots in Minnesotan fields.

But that could have been from a dream.

Farmers can also be the factory farm mogul types who buy 10 city blocks and go onto treat their cows, chickens and pigs like soccer balls and ashtrays.

Fucking assholes.



There are hair farmers.

Sugar beet farmers.

Butterfly farmers.

Coffee bean farmers.

And there are the small family produce farmers, like my father and his father.

A dying breed.

Like the brown pelican battling a blanket of sweet Louisiana crude.

My father and his father (plus my uncles and cousins and other relatives) toiled away in the fields and barns from sun up to sun down. They drove tractors in one direction and sat feeding seeds and saplings into planters in the other. They shipped produce to Cleveland in beat up pickups and shiny semis. They could identify every leaf on every sapling on the horizon. They wore John Deer hats without irony.

Good old boys.

Hard-working-smeared-eye-glasses-wearing-4am-rising-and-shaving-large-brood-supporting farmers.

If you had a question about strawberry season or how far apart to plant pumpkin seeds, my father could hook you up.

If you wanted to know which tomato varietal was best to grow on your half-shaded deck, he was your man.

He could trim 50 heads of lettuce in under 10 minutes.

Could tell you the national price average for corn, plus the going price in any of town’s supermarkets.

Could parallel park a forklift carrying a six-foot pallet of peppers without looking over his shoulder.

He was that kind of farmer.

And he didn’t boast.

 

 

A woman at a dinner party recently asked me about my family and I told her I grew up on a large produce farm in Northeast Ohio.

It’s one of the fun facts about myself I tend to throw out to people.

(Another one — and this is usually told while swimming — is that I used to pee in the pool with my trunks pulled down to my thighs like I was standing at a urinal until I was 10 years old and realized I could just pee right through them.)

“I didn’t know you were a farmer,” she said.

“Yup. I’m a farmer.”

“So you were a farmer?”

“Totally. I was a farmer,” I said, crossing my arms.

“How cool! You have cows?”

“Nah, just produce.”

“You have chickens?”

“We just grew fruits and vegetables. Yeah.”

“So no animals at all? Not, like, pigs?”

“Nope. We grew, oh, cabbage, corn, strawberries, all kinds of peppers and all kinds of squash, collard greens, kale, uh green beans, pumpkin, the occasional patch of kohlrabi. We used to have an apple orchard and a peach orchard, but that was a long time ago. It was a pretty big operation, actually. Twelve hundred acres. It was in the family for like 76 years or something. But we sold it all like 10 years ago. We had hundreds of migrant workers, too.”

“I can’t believe you’re a farmer.”

“Yup. That’s me.”


But holy shit, here’s the thing: I was no farmer.

I’ve been letting people all my life believe that I was a farmer, I do it all the time — Did I tell you I grew up on a farm? — but the truth is I was way more of a factory worker than a farmer.

My father, he was farmer.

My grandfather and uncles and aunts, they were farmers.

Laboring for a dozen years in a series of sweltering, interlocking barns did not make me a farmer.

“Don’t forget to punch in, ‘Farmer Greg.'”


I’ve never driven a tractor in my life.

Never hoed a field.

Never worried about the lack of rain.

Never put on a yellow slicker and grabbed my kale knife.

But no one ever needed me to do those things. With two older brothers, several older cousins, gritty year-round employees and a hundred or so migrant workers, I was kept out of the fields and delegated to the barns. To their loading docks. To their clanging machinery. To their mountains of ready-to-be constructed corn crates and wax boxes.

My jobs included walking around the corn wagon and heaving just-packed wooden crates onto my chest so I could toss them into the hydrocooler, standing at the end of a belt to pack thousands of peppers, zucchini and yellow squash into wax boxes, running up and down a conveyor belt slapping stickers on each piece of squash that bounced past, stacking boxes and crates of produce six feet high onto pallets, disposing rotten produce by the bucket load back into the fields, cleaning the equipment, constructing boxes and complaining, complaining, complaining, blah, blah, blah.

I could show you how to fold together a strawberry box in under five seconds.

Could tell you how many corn crates could fit horizontally or vertically on the freezing lip of the hydrocooler.

Could tell you the best spot and job at the rotating green bean table. (You want to be the last sorter before the first packer. Claim six-seven o’clock at the circular table and you should be golden.)

I was way more of a factory worker than a farmer.

But that’s not really that fun of a fact to tell people.

It’s depressing, to tell you the truth.

Makes everyone feel guilty.

Makes them confess that they spent their summers getting high at the lake house.

Or waking at noon to play video games in the air-conditioned basement.

I then defend my childhood, they say, “Oh, I’m sure it was a good experience,” and I agree that it was and then we both seem a little let down.

So for that reason, I continue on with the charade.


On Friday we checked out a roof-top organic garden growing on top of a favorite Chicago restaurant, and as we walked around the beds of saplings my friend pointed to a row and asked what they were.

I froze, knowing my farming history was once again going to be put to the test.

They could have been watermelon, for all I knew.

They could have been weeds.

Luckily her husband took one look at them and claimed they were peas.

“Yeah,” I jumped in. “Those are definitely peas. I grew up on a farm, you know.”

“Yeah, Greg,” my wife said. “We know.”



This is the third chapter in my ongoing story of how I started writing semi-professionally and all the ridiculous mistakes I’ve made along the way.

The first segment revolved around me scoring an editing gig for a totally shitty magazine and almost getting sued: In the Beginning There Was an Unpaid Editing Job in Cleveland, a Potential Lawsuit, and a Bunch of Unprovoked Angry Geese.

The second installment had me milling around the (X-Games-like) Gravity Games on the 9th Street Pier in Cleveland, taking notes and feeling sorry for myself: Rewriting a Media Guide Is Easier When You’re Both Lonely and Looking Important.

The title is the beginning of “Heavensgate”, by Christopher Okigbo, the greatest modern Nigerian poem, and I think the greatest modern African poem.  Okigbo is my patron saint, and my personal Janus (he died in the war that gave life to me), so it’s appropriate to pour out for him before I take a draught.  The second proper and good thing for me to do is to introduce myself.  I’m Uche Ogbuji, computer engineer and aspiring poet (I think I have a fair bit of skill with verse, but I set pretty daunting standards for myself).  I recently started reading TNB, following my dear friend Erika.  I’ve enjoyed my time here, so I was thrilled when she recommended me to Brad as a contributor, and twice thrilled when Brad welcomed me.

This is the second chapter following, well, the first chapter I posted in July: In the Beginning There Was an Unpaid Editing Job in Cleveland, a Potential Lawsuit, and a Bunch of Unprovoked Angry Geese

(Short breakdown of the above: I’m writing and editing a totally shitty magazine in Cleveland, The Hip Pocket, which is run by a team of amateurs in 2003. I was almost sued because I said my magazine was to receive a “boatload of money” from the Gravity Games to throw a party for their athletes and I had to write a Letter of Retraction to cover my ass. Our next cover story was to cover the Gravity Games story.)

 

At 1:05 pm, I stand on the 9th Street Pier watching toned women practice their wakeboarding routines, and I write in my folded-over notebook: “What am I doing here? They gave me a press pass, a parking pass and a lot of blank stares.”

My media pass, showing the number four under my name which means that I have the tiniest amount of press access possible to the facilities and athletes at the Gravity Games, hangs around my neck and I am convinced that it makes me look important.

Like a bouncer.

Or a pilot.

Or a karate instructor conducting class in a street window.

Every time I crack my notebook to jot something down, these beautiful athletes surrounding me in their small bikinis that show wonderful amounts of side-cleavage, crane their tan necks wondering what I’m documenting and who I’m writing for.

Am I with Sports Illustrated, or am I with some extreme sports magazine that might ask them a few questions about how they’re enjoying Cleveland so far or how they think they’ll do in the competition tomorrow or who their biggest threat is, or I am I with a magazine called Hip Pocket that has only put out five issues so far in a limited distribution circle that will only last one more issue – the Fashion Issue – because this writer will be standing in his small one-bedroom apartment next month telling Jim, the publisher, that he’s losing his excitement over the magazine because he still feels left out in the cold and unappreciated and because Jim just finished saying he knew a 13-year-old girl who could “really write” and who would be covering a concert coming up which the magazine would pay her for even though this writer in front of you on this pier, who has just quit his job at the bank because he was dry heaving in his office in the mornings when he thought of what the day would bring, hasn’t been paid a fucking dime and has driven all over Cleveland interviewing restaurant managers who don’t even feed him free food like he thought they would?

Nervous, I thumb my media guide.

It has a glossary in the back defining crazy extreme sports words and phrases like: chicken salad air, Iguana air, fat, ho ho, misty flip, butter slide, mashed potato, Japan, nothing, Pornstar, stalefish air, rocket air, poptart, shove it, mcEgg, alley-oop soul, air to fakie.

To look busy, I write some of my own words and phrases related to my Gravity Games and Hip Pocket experience in the margins of the glossary, making sure that they are in alphabetical order. Here they are, along with their definitions:

B

boxed out – Originated from basketball, the action of driving toward a sweet parking spot in order to report on wakeboarding only to have some guy in a Mountain Dew SUV block your path while a sleeveless man on a motorcycle steals the sweet parking spot.

boatload-of-money – 1. A measurement of cash to be given to a start-up magazine to help with party preparations. Mentioning such an amount will often result in a huge overreaction by asshole editors who hate to see young men work hard to get their writing careers off the ground. Often followed by a Letter of Retraction. 2. Should be covered with a tarp during sea voyage.

D

dime spin – Where the writer stops immediately to turn around when a hot wakeboarding chick wearing sunglasses walks past.

G

Grilled Jamaican Jerk Chicken with Coconut Rice – An item from Riverwalk Cafe’s menu that was not offered to the writer who spent two hours on their back patio making notes and asking the manager questions for an upcoming feature.

Grog Shop – Rock venue in Cleveland Heights whose owner was too cool to return any of my calls most probably because I wrote for a magazine that she’s never heard of, or for one that she has seen and thought wasn’t worth her time.

J

jackets and boots – Answer given by the owner of the boutique clothing store, Nabici Collection, when asked what he thought would be in style that Fall.

N

Nava Locke – Pseudonym of publisher’s girlfriend who writes cringe-worthy sentences e.g. “Tori Amos can steal hearts with her music, but it takes an eccentric and unique taste to take a liking to her and her music” and “Freedom is something we all cherish deeply, it is the root of our sole purpose for being here in this country, and we are damn proud of that” and “Many people have been listening to Moby for a long time, in fact many years” and …

S

shad – Short for “shadow” where an unemployed 23-year-old hides during a media day to feel sorry for himself and draws two-dimensional skateboards with rockets for wheels.

U

Undercover – Page in Hip Pocket that appears to have 15 pictures of random Cleveland bar hoppers but always has at least one picture of our VP Sales/Marketing guy, one of our Design guy, and many of their sweaty friends hugging.

W

wallet air – The rear hand grabs the wallet out of the back pocket for a corndog or slice of pizza, but opens it up to find jack shit because this editing position has yet to pay even though I thought it would have by now. The front hand wipes away tears.

I close my media guide and watch a band I detest (Hoobastank) going through its sound check.

I’m alone, sitting in the grass.

Watching photographers zip by on the back of golf carts.

Watching organizers stay on the sidewalks with walkie talkies in their faces.

Watching men climb the stage’s scaffolding with ropes attached to their belts.

Thinking that these shorts I’m wearing should be retired after today because the grease or oil stain in the crotch looks like a permanent piss mark.

Grad school, I think.

Apply to grad school and really do something with your writing instead of faking like you’re a reporter for a respectable magazine that people recognize.

I walk past the Free Times booth behind the Science Center and wince, thinking about the lawsuit scare just the month before.

At grad school, I think, I’ll learn how to pitch free alternative weeklies like a pro. I’ll learn about Letters of Retraction and writer’s rights, slander and libel, how to correctly cover an event like this, how to write a screenplay.

Overhead a plane zooms high, its red lights on its wings looking like a colon rushing toward a faraway sentence.

I’m standing and painting gravestones as weird red squares, twenty yards from where the coffins of President James A. Garfield and his wife (name?) lie in the gray basement of the Garfield Monument, and I’m thinking about how much I hate my banking job.

I’m thinking about how I kinda love ATMs because they keep customers out of my bank, but at the same time how I hate loading them with cash in the mornings.

 It’s been just over two years since I posed naked with 2,753 other people on the edge of Cleveland, Ohio.

It’s been just over two years since I stood shivering in the middle of a park behind the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame where I pulled my T-shirt over my head and dropped my pants and boxer briefs for a couple of hours.

All very legal.

All very much for art.

All said and done and plastered all over the news at the time.

 If you’ve spoken with me over the past several years, then you would know that I care deeply for the Cleveland Cavaliers franchise.

It’s just one of the many annoying things about me: I totally dig NBA basketball and I obsess over the Cavs.

That’s all I’ll really say about that because I don’t want to scare anyone away who isn’t a sports fan.