Having watched our farm manager Alec Forbes at work for over a year, I thought I could ask him a question that might get a straight answer. Surely it was something he had thought about. I should have known better. The straight part that is.
“As a farmer, what percent of your time do you think you spend fixing things?” I asked.
“So you mean not chores, right? Not the regular things.”
“No not chores.”
“Not helping a ewe or a cow giving birth.” No no. That’ s regular farming.
“Well, if you broke it yourself. I mean if you did something stupid, does that count as fixing something?”
‘Yes that counts.” I think he was talking about the broken florescent light in the cow barn, a miscue with a big bale on the tractor fork, but I didn’t ask.
This conversation went along for a while, with finer and finer distinctions between different kinds of “fixing” and “maintenance” and “repair.”
What I know is that Alec, who has farmed for some 40 years, probably never intended to be a plumber or a welder or an electrician or mechanic or a carpenter. Or even a designer. He thought he would be a farmer. Everything else came about out of necessity; not having an endless supply of money or access to maintenance resources. When I lived in farm country in Iowa, there were three tractor dealerships (parts!!) within 10 miles of our farm and a 24-7 tractor tire repair service that drove right into the field, a fantasy world on Martha’s Vineyard.
So this year I have seen Alec redesign and rebuild hay feeders at least six times. The 8’ bale is actually sometimes 8’4”, crushing the top rung when a bale drops in. He fixed water lines, put up a security light, rebuilt a hay wagon to beautifully accommodate our popular hayrides (almost all from used lumber), built a chicken coop or two, repaired lawn mowers and trucks and tractors and weed whackers. And sometimes kitchen appliances and toilets.
So the straight answer is probably that there is no way to separate farming from fixing. This fact is so much a part of Alec’s life he doesn’t even know it.
So how many farmer’s does it take to change a lightbulb? Only one, but he has to feel sheepish about it. Or be moo-ved to do it.