Friday, 24 June 2011

A Field for a Field

Something I learned when I first became involved with a farming family was that life on a farm, in the middle of nowhere, is still surrounded by old-fashioned methods. For many years, farm workers have bartered or worked in lieu rather than exchanged invoices and money for their services. I could never understand this for many years and used to ask constantly, especially during harvest, why the Farmer went to work on neighbouring farms for hours on end, came home exhausted, only to receive no money in his hand. But the workers on these farms return the gesture; a day's fencing here, a day's cutting there.


Sheep shearing is a time when bartering takes place, as is the harvest. Lambing is generally too busy for any farmer to help on other farms as they're working flat out with their own stock. But what I'm starting to find a little unfair these days, is that since the Farmer's dad passed away four years ago, the Farmer chooses to do most of our harvesting by himself. It's a long process and takes several days to work just one field. If he had someone to help him it would be done much quicker yet he prefers to just get on with it, exhausting himself yet perhaps reaping the rewards of his hard labour at the end of it. He's worked and lived on a farm all his life, as have all the other farmers in the area. But I always ponder whether him doing the harvest by himself whilst working on other farms as well, is really balancing our books in the way an invoice should. I think we'd all like to change the world a little, but for many years this has been the way of the land. You have to admire the farming community for the way they support each other throughout the year and how they insist on following with tradition.

24 comments:

  1. Don't know about Britain, but bartering is a common practice here. You get extra help, but no money changes hands, and you don't pay taxes on that money that didn't change hands.
    I remember the story of a couple of farmers. At harvest, they would hire each others' wives to help. The plan worked very well. The men combined the crop, the women drove the trucks, picked up the grain, and got it into the bins — before they went home to make supper.

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  2. It is always hard to break traditions, isn't it. I can understand how you feel because you see the farmer come home exhausted and that makes you feel like doing something about it.
    Here's a suggestion: Why not ask for volunteers amongst the student population? or how about the unemployed? Maybe some of those special people would like to spend a day on a farm, in the fresh air, learning something new? It's amazing to me how people pay to go to the gym, some pay each month whether they go or not, when they could be doing something much more useful and getting fit at the same time?

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  3. Yes, that is common in many places. Within the past two years, two farmers were injured during their hay harvest. Each time the neighbors gathered and got that hay in with nothing expected in return.

    I wish we had more bartering, something that was very common in past times. We could use some help with some things and would gladly return the favor. Not to mention, a shared job always goes easier.

    A tradition that always worked here was having a pot luck (mates bringing food)with you providing the main course and beverages...and have a large lunch or dinner for all those who come to help.

    Your farmer is a good man...maybe he feels badly about actually asking for help.

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  4. In reply to Star - I'd like to live in the world you live in but sadly, I don't think it's real.

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  5. My mum was talking about the past the other day. She spoke of real poverty where some children had only bread and sugar for dinner, holes in their shoes and so on. Also, though, she told me the neighbours looked out for each other, helped out with childcare, pieces of coal, and yes 'cups of sugar' when needed. There is a value to bartering, sharing, and scratching each others' back which money could never match. Your hard-working husband perhaps needs to realise that no matter how strong and capable he is, nothing is worth breaking your back for and sometimes pride comes before a fall.

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  6. Rob-bear - yes, the tax situation does get easy when one isn't exchanging money. Round here, the wives tend to do the boring stuff like cooking. I try to weedle out of it though.

    Star - It is a nice thought to have someone work on the farm who we don't need to pay, but sadly that will never happen. Students these days, are in so much debt that one could never expect them to volunteer. They do go on work-experience however, but it's only a day release type of thing and not much use to a busy farmer. I do understand what you're saying though.

    Gail - It's been interesting for me recently to learn that this in common practice in many parts of the world.

    midlifesinglemum - I think Star has a good point, please don't be too hard on her! In these days of course, it isn't an option to ask for volunteers however much I would like to think it is.

    Thank you for your comments, CJ xx

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  7. The key is reciprocity, isn't it? If someone would help your husband, it would feel okay to help someone else.

    Around here, a lot of the jobs that used to be carried out on a swap basis are now carried out by professional firms paid to cut the (silage)grass, etc. All very well if you can afford it.

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  8. Sounds like a good old medieval system and one worth preserving. Why, though, does The Farmer not get help to do the jobs on his farm quicker, when he has contributed so much to others' good fortune?

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  9. That's a good thing! I have a feeling we are all going to need each other much more in the future...
    Happy weekend sweet friend!
    hughugs

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  10. hi crystal. thanks for visiting my blog. i'm now a follower of yours too. I look forward to future post from you.

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  11. Sounds like a good system to me.

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  12. Well tested out tradition from over the years.
    However, maybe the Farmer needs to let other people in to help now and then..
    Maggie X

    Nuts in May

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  13. Thanks so much for stopping in and following...I'm your newest follower. :)

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  14. It's a really interesting one isn't it? Nice in a way that money isn't the be all and end all, but obviously you do need it to survive and give you the things you need and want. xx

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  15. Not a boring blog at all!! The farmers round here all "care and share" at lambing and especially at harvest time where they share expensive combines etc. I swear the wheat has grown another 5 inches overnight following the rain! XXX

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  16. I do understand your feelings Crystal - your concern for his health as he works flat out must be very real. Also the risk of accident rises the more tired a person becomes.

    I worked at a farm/market garden for two and a half years. It is extremely hard work and also strengthening and frankly life- enhancing. The farm was closed at Christmas following the death of the owner. I miss that way of life enormously.

    I agree with Star. And here's why -
    Free work experience is what got me the job there in the first place. In fact I got two jobs this way! One on the farm and one as a gardener. After sheaves of rejections I whizzed back into employment after years at home with the kids because of volunteering to help for free. For the chance to be in a workplace and to prove myself.

    There is a trap when you've been unemployed - or as Star says - when you're a student trying to break into employment: no current experience, no references = no chance!

    I'm not suggesting you would be able to employ people - no - but anyone who was able to say - look I've worked darn hard for a week at this farm for nothing to increase my knowledge and show some form and here's the farmer's reference - will be far more attractive to any prospective employer.

    Those are my thoughts, for what they're worth :-)

    Good luck with the harvest X

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  17. Merry Weather - You make a really good point. We're thinking of hiring a student next lambing season as I believe it's classed as work experience. We would obviously have to accommodate them and I'd have to cook for them (not good!) but it would work out a lot cheaper. We paid this year's lambing assistant £1,350 for 3 weeks work which was absolutely ridiculous in my opinion. We haven't got that sort of money to shell out when farming isn't a lucrative business to start off with.

    Incidentally, my husband seems to think we can survive on fresh air - we still have people owing us for straw which they purchased back in February and his answer to me, every time I complain about the non-payment is, "oh, stop worrying, they'll pay..." Yeah, like when exactly?! This is no way to run a business in my view. Times are difficult enough as it is these days without having to wait around for invoices to be settled and "friends" to pay up.

    CJ xx

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  18. My husband is self employed - he is a range cooker man - and we live in rural Scotland. We often get paid by farmers in produce rather than money and are happy to do business that way. It really does put the food on our table.

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  19. I think that's wonderful how they all stick together. Shame it's not like that in the cities!

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  20. Sounds a lovely way of life, and it would be nice if it was more common! Nat

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  21. You have a very interesting blog. I just live in the suburbs, but we have a neighbor who helps us for nothing and we help them for nothing when needed. It works out great for us all. People in my parents youth did that all the time, but people don't do it so much these days. Beautiful dog photos. When I was a child we had a border collie who left the people that owned her a block away, and showed up in our yard to stay. She was a wonderful dog and very protective, even of our cats.

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  22. I love the idea of "a favour here, a favour returned" way of living. It's not something we hear much of nowadays. That said, it only works if it's adhered to from both sides of the fence. It's difficult to "tally" favours - and how do you go about making sure people "pay up" if they're the ones owing said favours?

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  23. You opinions are unbelievably amazing. I totally agree on the context of the article.

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  24. I love the idea of a favour here and there being returned, everyone pulling together. So long as it's mutual and no-one is taken advantage of.

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