The Simple Life Is Simple YKTTW Discussion

The Simple Life Is Simple
Farming is made to look much simpler to learn & to do than it really is.
(permanent link) added: 2012-01-18 12:23:03 sponsor: swallowfeather (last reply: 2012-07-04 16:25:41)

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Everyone knows about farming. Farming is simple and picturesque. It happens in the country, where there's grass and trees and fields. Farmers are simple, hard-working people who till the soil, with a tractor if they're modern or a plow if they're historical. They grow crops, raise animals, and live a simple, healthy life in a natural setting, free from the complications of modernity. If we were less addicted to the internet, we'd probably all go join them.

And surely we'd have no trouble doing so. Farmwork is well known to be unskilled. You don't even have to go to college to run a farm, let alone work on one. Sure, of course it's hard work. But it's not complicated. We could totally do it if we just buckled down.

This misconception of farming shows up fairly often in fiction--not so much a product of Did Not Do The Research as of Having No Experience.

In fact, farming is extremely complicated. A farmer working a diversified farm has to be a highly skilled generalist with specific, situation-relevant knowledge from a dozen different fields, from botany to mechanics to veterinary medicine to chemistry to entomology. What's more, a real mistake (or for that matter a late frost) can spell disaster: a ruined crop can't be fixed, and can't be replaced until the next year. The historical farmer didn't have it any easier; driving a tractor is in fact considerably simpler than getting a mule to do exactly what you want it to.

And that unskilled labor like hoeing and picking? Yes, any newbie can do that. If a farmer is willing to pay them the same rate as experienced people who can do the work five to ten times faster.

If a character who has no experience farming takes to running a farm without a noticeable learning curve, that is this trope. (In the case of a "gentleman farmer" or hobby farmer, who's merely farming for fun with no economic pressure, the learning curve can be less steep.) If a character with no experience farming has to do some farmwork and does it with no training, no practice, and no trouble, that is also this trope.

This trope is played straight in some The City vs. the Country plots and averted or subverted in others. It's often played straight in adventure stories where our wandering hero earns his keep at local farms as he passes through. (Does not apply, of course, if said hero already knows how.) This trope is also commonly found in Arcadia, where farming is idyllic and pleasant as well as simple, and may sometimes show up when a character is Called To Agriculture.



  • In an early sci-fi story, a time-traveling ex-dictator inexperienced with farming ends up at a farm in the Appalachians, "chopping wood" for his keep. He is asked to cut the wood into lengths that will fit into the stove with an ax (an unimaginably inefficient process given that the right tool is a saw.) He does it with no trouble.
  • Averted in Dick Tracy when killer on the run 88 Keyes hides out by taking a job on a dairy farm. The fact that he knows nothing about dairying is obvious and quickly exposes him. (Writer Chester Gould owned a dairy farm and knew how technical much of the work is.)
  • Lampshaded in Terry Pratchett's Discworld - when Tiffany gets her hands on a bunch of romance novels, she misses the point of the stories, mostly concerned how the portrayal of farm life is all wrong.
  • How I Edited An Agricultural Paper by Mark Twain is entirely based on this -- a editor not having a slightest idea about the matter giving "valuable advice". Sometimes he's even right, sort of ("the pumpkin as a shade tree is a failure").
  • Subverted in Gone with the Wind when Scarlett and her sisters learn just how hard farming really is.
  • Mrs. Piggle Wiggle's Farm abuses this trope.
  • In Atlas Shrugged, industrialists and businessmen take to farming with no trouble at all and even have enough time left over to write symphonies and work on inventions. On one hand, they're explicitly described as the world's most capable people, but on the other, they have no specific farming knowhow and no labor but themselves.


  • Richard Kimble in The Fugitive often took jobs on farms. He presumably got good at it after a while, but he never seemed to encounter any problems caused by him not knowing what he was doing.
  • While discussing the industrial revolution in his classic documentary series The Ascent of Man Jacob Bronowski points out a common historical misconception. Namely, that people who used to be simple farmers were forced to work in hellish factories. Yes, he says, the factories were hellish, but farm labour in those days wasn't much better.

Live-Action TV

  • Subverted on the Fabulous Beekman Boys - they believe farming life is like this, but it turns out to be much harder than they think.
  • Exploited on The Simple Life, where Paris Hilton and Nicole Ritchie go to live and work on a real farm.
  • Johnny Bago: Johnny's RV is out of water so he gets some from a nearby pump. Then he's informed that since the area is irrigated he basically just stole their water. He doesn't have the $20 they want so he's forced to work it off by picking cauliflower alongside the Hispanic migrant workers. He thinks he'll get done quickly but is then informed that all his picking for the day amounts to a little under $1 - not counting expenses.
  • Subverted on Green Acres. Oliver Douglas quits being a big city lawyer to move to the country and be a farmer. He has an idealized view of what farming is a like, but when he gets there he is shown to be a terrible farmer who has worn out, outdated equipment(his Hoyt Clagwell tractor is always breaking down) and goes farming in a suit. Furthermore he expects his wife Lisa to become a typical farmer's wife and learn to how cook which she is terrible at. In one episode an agent from the Department of Agriculture even shows up to tell him he's doing things wrong, but he doesn't listen.


  • Inverted by The Archers, a long running BBC radio Soap Opera which was set up to both entertain and advise farmers (although a lot of suburban and urban dwelling people also enjoy it and its since grown from that role).

Video Games

  • The farmers in Harvest Moon sometimes fall into this.
  • Farming in Minecraft is much easier than in Real Life - for instance, you can make your crops grow instantly if you add bonemeal. Somewhat justified in this as in other video games, since games are intended to be, what was that word again, "fun."
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