The Simple Life Is Simple
Everyone knows about farming. Farming is simple and picturesque, right? 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 — more as a result 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
. There can be long stretches of leisure time, but this is because you can't speed up either the plants or the animals, or the seasons. (And farmers who can often do odd jobs during those stretches, to eke out the necessary money.)
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 (where the aesop
is "city life is too complicated, you should get back to nature") and averted or subverted in others (where the aesop
is more like "everyone has his cross to bear").
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.
- Subverted in Silver Spoon. The main character Hachiken has this attitude and thinks that since he got generally high marks as a junior high student in his city school, an agricultural high school should be a total academic cakewalk. He finds out very quickly just how wrong he was and is frequently overwhelmed by the amount of technical skill required to do the many aspects of farming, from the basics of animal husbandry to the administrative knowledge required to run a large-scale agricultural operation. Much of the comic is spent on the complexities (and back-breaking hard work) involved for people who make their living as farmers.
- Also subverted in that, being the obsessive studier and planner that he is, he quickly takes to the new material. Academically wise, that is. Though he never gets the top marks in anything, to his disappointment, he impresses everyone else by pretty much always coming in second, while everyone else has their own subject they do well in. It's the more physical activities that go with the conceptual understanding that get him.
- 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.
- Lampshaded when Tiffany Aching (farmer's daughter and witch-in-training) gets her hands on a romance novel in Wintersmith, she misses the point of the story, mostly concerned with how the portrayal of farm life is all wrong.
- Subverted in Feet of Clay: Fred Colon plans to retire to a farm... until he encounters actual, annoyed livestock for the first time. (A quick learner.)
- 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").
- Volunteer Marek (a journalist and writer in his civilian life) in The Good Soldier Svejk tells basically the same tale as Mark Twain's one mentioned above, only about a zoological almanac. Which is, as Marek is generally a Hašek's Author Avatar, Based on a True Story.
- 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. Kids go from town/city to her little sweet farm and take care of the animals. They all love it and if there are any hardships, they overcome them quite quickly.
- 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.
- 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. (Though, of course, the labour of farming comes and goes with the seasons, not the case with factory life.)
- The Ba'ku in Star Trek: Insurrection run on this—for such a non-technological society, everything sure is clean! Then again, they were Space Elves...
- Thoroughly deconstructed in Jean de Florette, where a City Mouse buys a farm in rural Provence and fails utterly over the course of the film. While a lot of it is his own inexperience and over-reliance on book learnin', his job is made a lot harder by his neighbours, who dam up a spring that drains onto his land, hoping to drive him off so they can buy him out cheaply; and by the villagers, who knew about the neighbours' plan, but didn't talk part out of cowardice, part out of disdain as they consider him "a stranger".
- Deconstructed in Holiday Inn: Jim Hardy feels the Call to Agriculture and leaves showbiz to run a farm. He lasts less than a year before the hard work breaks him.
- The Disney Channel Original Movie Horse Sense has a lazy and spoiled city boy being sent by his parents to Montana to work on his aunt's farm as punishment for his terrible behavior when his cousin came to visit. Both the cousin and the farm workers don't think much of the city boy and give him "simple" tasks, which he is having a lot of trouble with. Of course, the cousin deliberately withholds information that could vastly simplify those tasks (e.g. telling the city boy to move a pile of manure from one place to another, "forgetting" to mention a tractor behind the shed).
- Subverted in Tess Of The Durbervilles, where Angel, a pampered son of a preacher, gains a real admiration for those who have farmed, and will farm, all of their lives, especially in the face of catastrophe (such as one cow eating a garlic plant, resulting in that entire week's worth of butter being unusable because it tastes faintly of garlic).
- 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.
- In 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 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 how to 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.
- 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.
- Parodied on That Mitchell and Webb Look with a recurring sketch featuring a guy under the impression that farming is a super-secret Get Rich Quick Scheme he's sharing with the audience. "You know sheep? A bit woolly? It's WOOL! Pull it off, sell it... fuckin' grows back again! You CANNOT lose!"
- 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.)
- Inverted by The Archers, a long running BBC radio Soap Opera which was set up to both entertain and advise farmers themselves, and they don't hesitate to write in and complain about the slightest mistake. As a lot of suburban and urban dwelling people also enjoy it, it's gradually moved away from the "farming advice" angle towards being more of a classic soap opera that happens to be in a rural setting. However, the show still has an "agricultural advisor" on staff to make sure they plough a straight furrow.
- The song "Farming" in the musical Let's Face It! is an expression of this belief.
- 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 on demand by adding bonemeal. Somewhat enforced in this as in other video games, since games are intended to be, what was that word again, fun.
- World of Warcraft has the farming community of Tillers, where the player can have their own farm. It's based on simple minigame, with farming of course being much easier than in Real Life.
- Both averted and played straight in the Generator Rex episode "Hermanos". Rex thinks running a ranch will be simple and soon discovers that it isn't. However, Claire is able to learn an awful lot about farming just by watching videos on the internet.
- After World War One the Australian government gave land grants to veterans so as to settle sparsely populated areas of the country. Many failed miserably due to a lack of support infrastructure, capital, and the general inexperience of the mostly city-raised soldiers. The project was restarted after the Second World War, this time with greater support for the farmers.
- Jim Jones's Jonestown: the cult leader tried to create his own self sufficient village, where everyone worked in the fields, and could get everything they needed by farming. But the village faced shortages and the once lost some of their harvest in a storm. Which show how really hard this can be.
- The Extended Homestead Act of 1909. Its intent was to facilitate the development of the Great Plains by providing land grants to would-be farmers. Unfortunately, this backfired spectacularly: The land was not conducive to traditional agricultural development, and the homesteaders themselves didn't understand local ecology well enough to cultivate the land properly. Mismanagement of the land led to large-scale erosion and loss of topsoil, and the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.
- Hugely subverted in the late Soviet Union. When the Soviet authorities started to allot the general city population small plots of land for hobby farming (and small means small — they were usually 600 square meters, or about 0.15 acre), the city population, armed by the hundreds of tomes on modern agriculture, a desire to escape the dreary boredom and horrible quality of official produce and general interest, took to the farming with such gusto that within a decade the (unofficial) output of these plots begun to outstrip the output of the official, state-managed agriculture in some ares, especially vegetable production, despite most of these people having a day job and tending their suburban plots only on weekends. It spells volumes on the inefficiency of the official Soviet agriculture, but also about the intensity with which these City Mouses cultivated their land.