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.”

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GREG BOOSE grew up in northeast Ohio, got his MFA degree in Moorhead, MN, and now lives in Chicago. His writing has appeared on/in The Huffington Post,The Big Jewel, Yankee Pot Roast, Monkeybicycle, Opium Magazine, McSweeneys.net, Hobart, Feathertale, Time Out Chicago, Chicago Public Radio, Chicago Reader, NFL.com and more. Along with his wife, he is the co-editor for BlackBook Magazine's guide to Chicago. He won the 2008 Readers' Choice Award and Editor's Choice Award for satire in Farmhouse Magazine.

You must be this tall to visit his website at gregboose.com.

Follow him on Twitter at Greg_Boose.

15 responses to “Farmers and Sons of Farmers are Sometimes Two Entirely Different Farmers”

  1. Irene Zion says:

    My mom’s family were farmers for generations and generations.
    She got her ass out of Dodge as soon as she was able.
    Ran away from home to go to High School.
    She was supposed to stay on the farm.
    Worked as a nanny for a couple with two girls and they let her go to school while the kids were in school.
    Saved money for nursing school.
    Used almost all of it to get her RN.
    Bought a ticket as far south as she could go.
    Never wanted to be cold again.
    That’s as far south as she could buy a ticket from Manitoba.
    That’s how it started.

    • Greg says:

      That’s how it started. And now you must finish it by moving your family to the equator. Farm goats or some shit. Just no alpacas.

      • Irene Zion says:

        On the equator they have nutrias and capybaras.
        I took pictures of them in the Amazon.
        They are really cute.
        I didn’t see any goats.
        I really liked the Amazon.
        I’ve been there twice.
        But there are very few restaurants and movie theaters.
        I don’t think I’m moving, Greg.
        (But I thought it over.)

  2. jim says:

    Once when I was kid I was picking strawberries with my mom (thinking it was in the field between your house and grandpa’s house, but could be wrong), then broke out in some pretty good rashes and never had to do that stuff again. So you’ve got plenty of us beat. I did get to shuck my fair share of corn and peas we got from the farm market, though.

    Remind me never to swim with you or your family.

  3. Dana says:

    “My wool is worth gold and gems.” HA!

    I used to LOVE going to my cousins house one week every summer to help them do the “haying”. I don’t even remember any adult supervision. The cousins that were just a year or two older than me handled the whole operation. Just a bunch of teenagers (and younger) bringing in the hay, baling and stacking it in the barn. That we all still had fingers at the end of the week is pretty amazing. They were a small family farm (beef and dairy) and had other assorted livestock, kitchen garden etc. They worked their asses off and I looked at it like it was summer camp.

    • Greg says:

      Yeah, a lot of my friends either knew it was the worst job to have as a kid, or they thought it sounded pretty neat… to do for a week.

      What’s funny is that when the rare teenager from town got hired at the farm, we would bet on how long he would last. Because, honestly, unless you were forced to be there or had a family depending on you back in Mexico, no teenager in their right mind would want to get out of bed every morning to work in those barns.

  4. jmblaine says:

    ah Greg, you did not
    disappoint me
    I so wanted to click
    Good Ole Boys
    and see my beloved Dukes.

    I dated five farmer’s daughters
    before finally marrying one.
    Lots of farmers in the family.
    Farming is some hard, hot work man.

    Thank God for farmers though.

    Also I love Gallagher.
    But not when he’s telling jokes
    only when he is hitting things with a hammer.

    Hey, you should drive a tractor
    sometime. It’s a good feeling.

    • Greg says:

      I now have a mission to drag race tractors with you as your wife waves the checkered flag. Gallagher will provide the refreshments and hammers.

  5. Don Mitchell says:

    Hah. This is very good. I especially liked the advice about being the last sorter. Details!

    I spent a long time with tropical agricultural people, but they were subsistence farmers.

    It was there that I learned about hookworm farming, and in fact set up my own. It had three fields that we referred to by Latin names: duodenum, jejunum, and ileum.

    What’s interesting about hookworm farms — I’m sure you know this — is that it’s not obvious that the fields have been planted and the crop’s growing well. The key sign that the crop’s matured is that the farmer shows iron deficiency and gets very skinny.

    Harvesting is a tough job. I won’t write about it unless I’m asked to.

    But seriously. This is a nice piece and a reminder that farming isn’t always mud-on-the-boots or cowshit in the cuffs.

    I’m always on the lookout for one of those bumper stickers: No Farms, No Food. Says it all.

    • Greg Boose says:

      Glad you liked it, Don. The only reason I know about hookworm farmers is from a crazy segment on “This American Life” where some dude with terrible allergies learns that having hookworms living in his intestines is his only cure. He goes on to farm the hookworms inside his belly and then sells them to other allergy sufferers over the internet. It’s on the “Behind Enemy Lines” episode. And it’s worth looking up. I have a feeling you’re talking about different worms here. At least, I hope so…

      • Don Mitchell says:

        My god, I thought you were making a joke. I didn’t know about that at all. I was trying to be funny. I managed to get infected with hookworms a couple of times and the cure was very unpleasant.

  6. Don Mitchell says:

    I shouldn’t have done the one-word response, because the harvesting seems like an interesting problem.

    It’s got to be difficult to get what you need from the shit, because what’s in there is eggs only. It’s got to be hard to harvest the eggs. You can be the sorter.

    Then you’d have to get them to hatch into larvae, but you can do that with dirt and moisture.

    You could pack gel caps with larvae and sell them, I guess.

    Maybe you could charge more by offering the complete experience, though. Sell time at the hookworm spa and the people can walk around where you’ve planted the larvae, letting them get in through the skin of their feet. And then you could tell them to be sure and enjoy the coughing as the larvae make their way through your lymphatic system into your lungs, jump up and over in your throat, you swallow them, and they get down to work. Maybe something could be done with flavoring.

    Lots of possibilities here. Thanks for alerting me!

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