The closest thing U.S. farmers have to a rock star in their corner is Mike Rowe, the creator of the Discovery Channel’s series, Dirty Jobs With Mike Rowe.
Rowe, who has taped many segments on farms of all shapes and sizes — from a cricket farm in Georgia to a cranberry farm in Oregon — gets down and dirty when he tapes his shows. There’s no stand-in; he really does the dirty jobs the shows portray, and he has the scars to prove it.
Rowe celebrates dirty jobs because they typically include hard work. And hard work is a good thing.
In fact, his online bio declares “… the notion of depicting hard work as noble and fun is central to his personal mission.”
Speaking Monday at the American Farm Bureau Federation annual meeting in Atlanta, Rowe reminded the farmers that getting dirty and working hard is OK. Make that better than OK.
The phrase, “work smarter, not harder,” is possibly the stupidest advice he’s ever heard, Rowe told the farm crowd. It should be work harder AND smarter.
“The problem is Work,” Rowe writes online. “We’ve spent decades trying to distance ourselves from traditional notions of Work. And who embodies Work more than The American Farmer?“
Rowe knows what we have forgotten as a nation: the value of work. Of scrapping and sweating and straining.
New York Times Columnist David Brooks wrote about the same theme last September, saying, “… America’s brightest minds have been abandoning industry and technical enterprise in favor of more prestigious but less productive fields like law, finance, consulting and nonprofit activism.”
It’s not just the elite. Middle class parents — farmers included — didn’t want to see their kids have to work so hard, so they encouraged them to explore more genteel occupations and avoid technical vocations. Dirty jobs.
“Up and down society, people are moving away from commercial, productive activities and toward pleasant, enlightened, but less productive, ones,” Brooks writes.
Even Mike Rowe’s own grandfather — whose blue-collar work ethic as a steamfitter, pipefitter, electrician, mechanic and plumber inspired the grandson — advised young Mike to “get a different toolbox.”
But we built this country by getting dirty. By building things, by investing in manufacturing and production. By farming. Steel, ships, cement, cars. Eggs, corn, beef, pork. By working harder and smarter.
I’m convinced that American ethos survives. There are those who are still willing to take risks, to fail, to relearn, and to keep trying.
There’s an old saying, “the blessing of poverty; the curse of prosperity.” As we gain wealth, we shift our lifestyles to more consumption. We buy what we want, rather than what we need — and then we start thinking we really need those things that are just “wants.”
We’ve become weak.
But that’s nothing that some hard work wouldn’t cure. Just ask Mike Rowe.
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