I met Chris at a rock show, and after three drinks and about twice as many not-too-subtle glances, we introduced ourselves.
“What do you do?”
“I’m a writer. What do you do?”
“I’m a farmer.”
We saw each other sporadically over the next three months or so, always in Seattle, and the evening usually ended with him slipping some organic vegetables from his farmers market stock of the week in my purse. We talked a fair amount about his farm, roughly two hours from the city, but it always felt like it existed in a sort of alternate universe that didn’t have anything to do with the one in which we drank beers at pool bars. Which was ironic, because my friends exclusively identified him as “The Farmer.”
There’s a lot of romanticizing that happens around the idea of being a farmer — hell, enough so that betrothed couples across the country are banging down the barn door to get married on mist-laden agrarian dreamscapes. But after The Farmer and I settled on being Just Friends, I had the chance to ask him about what romance on the farm actually looks like — over margaritas in the city, of course.
“It’s not easy,” he said. “Because here’s the deal: It’s this fantasy job — being a steward of the land and being a farmer is the most honest job you could ever imagine. And that’s a super-romantic thing for a partner, which is great because people are generally excited about dating me. But when the shit hits the fan and I’m working 70-80 hours a week, all the time, and I’m not around, it gets hard.”
In the agricultural world, the standard challenges of finding one’s soulmate are only compounded by the fact that the number of farmers in the United States has greatly diminished. And as young people tend to be discouraged from the long, hard, and not exactly lucrative work of farming, the average age of the American farmer is only rising. As farms have disappeared and consolidated across the country, small towns are clearing out in favor of big cities — shrinking the rural dating pool considerably.
I set out to get a real idea of whether farmers encounter more or different hardships in the dating game than your average single-and-searching, and talked with six farmers of different ages, sexual orientations, and farming backgrounds and approaches across the country. I’ve collected excerpts from those very candid conversations and shared them below, and hope that together they form an honest picture of what it’s really like to look for love as a farmer.
Marshall, 26, Mississippi: Fifth-generation pig farmer
Can you tell me a little bit about your experiences trying to meet women in the area around your farm?
I guess it’s ironic because I’m a local producer and always stressing local, but as far as females go I usually, uh, have to import from other places or meet girls at other places. I just haven’t really interacted with a girl my age in this community, well, really at all — but especially that I felt really compatible with.
Really, for my social life, period, I’m in Memphis and New Orleans a lot — that’s kind of where I get that outlet. When I’m on the farm, that’s my oasis to come and be alone and be away from all of the, ah, evil influences of the outside world. I can really focus and not be hungover all the time.
How did you meet your current girlfriend?
When I graduated [from college] I found a job at a ranch in Montana where she happened to be working. We hit it off pretty immediately and were kind of together that summer. And when we left, we just tried to make it work and it’s been kind of a battle, being so far apart when she was finishing school, but now she’s back in the South, which is great.
Is it important to you that someone who you’re dating has an interest in farming?
My farm and my family land here means a lot to me, obviously, I decided to come back to it. I grew up here and I love this place and there’s a really powerful connection that I have with it. [My girlfriend] understands that, and she really loves the farm.
When you’ve been out in Memphis or New Orleans with friends, what kind of reactions have you gotten from women when you tell them that you’re a farmer?
For some crazy reason, being a farmer — I guess from publications like yours and others — it’s become kind of in vogue recently. In your mid-20s, if you’re doing something offbeat it’s considered really cool, and I always get positive reactions from the opposite sex for that type of thing. But I think that the older you get, the financial reality of everything starts to set in, and what becomes more important is your ability to make a living and support yourself.
So if I can prove that I can do that through doing something really innovative like this, that would be great. Otherwise, I’m just another idealistic kid that thinks farming is cool. But at the same time I’m not, really, because I grew up in a family with a farming background, so I have a pragmatic outlook on a lot of this stuff. I think that’s lacking from a kid who grows up in the suburbs and reads a couple books by Joel Salatin and gets a huge boner and wants to move out to the woods.
Joe, 23, Pennsylvania: Farm apprentice
How did you first get into farming?
I — ha, this is such a typical answer. I read Walden by Henry David Thoreau, and I thought, yes, I want to learn how to be self-sufficient, I want to learn to grow my own food. And I started learning a little bit about our country’s food system and the global food system, and I thought, “Oh, this is really messed up — I want to see what I can do to change the way things operate now.” So [at 18] I started volunteering at a farm, and after that I got a farm job and I really liked it.
And since you moved out to the farm that you’re working on now, have you tried to venture out into the dating scene at all?
By the end of my second week here, I was going crazy and feeling really lonely. I really needed to be around people my age — I needed someone to talk to and to make some new friends. So I made an OKCupid profile, and I guess that’s how that started.
What would you say has been your best OKCupid experience since moving out there?
There was a person who lives about an hour’s drive away from me. And I drove out to meet them one night and they seemed really great, we got along really well. We went for a walk in the woods, they cut their own hair, I cut my own hair.
On the date?
No, sorry, we talked about how we each cut our own hair. We didn’t cut each other’s hair on the date. So we hung out and talked, and that was really nice. And since then I’ve seen them a few more times.
And is this person also a farmer?
No. I have not met anyone else who is a farmer yet.
What was your worst OKCupid experience so far?
Probably my worst experience would be with the person who I had the best OKCupid experience with.
The person who also cut their own hair?
Uh-huh. Because I invited them back to the farm without considering the fact that they are vegan — which is cool, I’m also vegan, so we had that in common. And on our farm is a confined feedlot dairy operation, which I’m not directly involved and which upsets me, and it also really upset my date. And so that was a bad experience.
What was their reaction? What did they do?
They were pretty horrified, and they expressed anger that somebody would keep cows in that situation. They got me to question my own complicity in working with the same organization that, as a side project, also runs this CAFO. Yeah, they were upset.
Do you feel like you were able to have any kind of productive conversation with them about the realities of farming?
Um, definitely. We talked about how destructive and awful agriculture can be.
And were they eager to go back to the farm after that experience?
No, no definitely not. They haven’t been back to the farm since, and actually we haven’t hung out since then.
Leah, 32, Montana: Fourth-generation cattle rancher
Before you got married, did you ever date another rancher?
Yes. We went to college together, he was also in the school of ag. And weirdly enough, he was the first cowboy I had ever dated. Growing up here, I didn’t ever date any ranch or agriculture-type kids. It seemed like they were all just friends, you know?
When you first got together, how did you bond over farming?
I didn’t have to explain how to ride a horse or how to sort cows — he already knew how to do everything, so that part was really fun. It was easy to talk to him about the problems with ranching. And I think it was nice for him to date someone who got it as well.
But at the same time, breaking up because we each wanted to be on our own ranch was extremely traumatic at the time. After we broke up, I said, “I’m never dating another rancher again!”
Why was it important for you to stay on and involved in your own family ranch?
He really, really wanted me to [move to his ranch]. I just knew that there was no way. I love traveling and all that, but this is my home, you know? And my dad’s one of my favorite people, so I never wanted to move too far away from him. [My neighbor] and I have talked about this extensively while we were growing up. We’ve always been very concerned with the issue of: How can we get back here [to our ranches], and how can we have men folk come with us?
Does your husband have a farming background?
No, he fully is what we call a town kid. He’s a directional driller for natural gas.
Does he ever help out on the ranch when he’s off work?
Poor guy, he gets recruited for lots of stuff. He just got his own horse last year and he never had one before. He’s really embraced it and been awesome about it. He’s actually like one of our No. 1 vaccinators now, for cows.
Last year was pretty fun because he got to pull his first calf, and he was kind of grossed out — it was all slimy. But he did really well. He’s learning new stuff every year, and he asks a lot of questions and wants to be involved, so that helps a lot.
Emily, 27, Wisconsin: Seasonal farmer
What has been your best dating experience as a farmer?
[In Connecticut,] I ended up going on a lot of dates and then started dating this girl who was home from medical school for the summer and staying with her parents. That was a short but nice piece of luck, basically.
So she wasn’t a farmer at all?
No, but she actually got pretty into it, and would come and help us weed vegetables and stuff. She was into it enough to not be horrified that I was taking her to a trailer, literally, parked next to a river.
In terms of future relationships, and looking for long-term relationships, is it important for you to date another farmer?
On principle, not really. But I’m going to a big conference at the end of the month, and it always feels like a meat market in some ways. You meet a lot of awesome people regardless, but there are a certain percentage of us who go in kind of with the hope of meeting somebody new who you could eventually see farming with and/or having a relationship with.
I feel like there should be a Farmers Only for young people where it’ll match you not only on all of the normal things, but also on whether you have land or need land, or want to stay in this geographical area or would move anywhere — that kind of stuff. It’s a bit like the Oregon Trail, mail-order bride days, but if you’re going to limit your dating pool [so much], why limit it geographically also?
Grayson, 26, Ohio: Fourth-generation corn and soybean farmer
Have you dated girls who were not involved in farming at all?
In high school, yes, I did. It was … they were fun. Once we were getting ready to start harvesting for beans, and we ran all day until eight, nine o’clock that evening. I called [my girlfriend at the time], and she asked if we were done, and I said yeah, and she was like, “Oh great, we can hang out tomorrow.” But we were done for the day. And she said, when are you gonna be done, and I said, “Uh, maybe Thanksgiving, it’s September right now.” So, uh, that one was not gonna work out.
Was she upset about that?
It just kind of caught her off guard.
Where is your farm?
I live just a mile outside of town. I have a house and 40 acres where I live.
And how is the social scene and dating scene around the town?
There is none, I guess? Yeah, I wouldn’t consider going to town and going to, like, Applebee’s and finding the girl of your dreams there. If there was somebody [in town] I didn’t already know, it’d be a surprise — especially if they were hot.
How did your parents meet?
They met at 4-H camp. They were young, maybe 9 or 10?
Do you think it’s important to them that you be with someone who has a farming background?
It [doesn’t have to be] someone who’s gonna put gloves on and Carhartts and be butch and work with you, but you just find the balance there.
Erin, 34, New York: Organic farmer
Is it important to you to date somebody with an interest in and understanding of farming?
It’s a good question! I think an understanding, definitely … of why I’m committed to growing healthy food for my community, why I have that drive, and [also] the environmental concerns around organic farming and replacing chemical-industrial agriculture. That understanding is kind of a basis, a non-negotiable. I would be working late and tired and smelly all the time, and so [someone would] have to understand why I’m doing this crazy thing.
Have you ever had any standout moment where you realized, “OK, this is my life now, and this is how this lifestyle is going to affect my dating life?”
No, I don’t think I ever thought about it. I don’t know — I mean, I should have. I’m 34 now, turning 35, and I’m thinking: “Oh shit, I wanted to have a kid, do the family thing.” And now it’s almost too late – I only have a couple more years of valid biological fertility, you know, and now I’m really realizing that wow, I wish I had figured this out 10 years ago.
So is this something that you’ve been thinking about more recently than you were, say, at the beginning of your farming career?
Totally, absolutely. Because I want to have a family farm, and I want to have a family on a farm, and I want to raise a kid or two on the farm. And I’ve had that dream, but I don’t think that I was really proactive enough at finding the right person back then … in [my] early years of farming.
And has that ever made you reconsider farming?
You know, I’ve never considered not farming. Since I made that commitment to myself, I just love it so much, and it’s just so satisfying on so many levels and I just love the work. But I’m getting to the point where maybe I’m going to give up the dream of having a family – it’s difficult. But I really don’t think I could be that satisfied with just a little garden. I just love farming.