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 — usually as a result of a character (or the writer) being a City Mouse.
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 meteorology to mechanics to veterinary medicine to chemistry to entomology. What's more, a real mistake or bad luck (such as 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, the animals or the seasons. And farmers who can often do odd jobs during those stretches, to eke out the necessary money. Garrison Keillor's farmers in Lake Wobegon speak of these things often and give you a much more realistic idea of what it's like.
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 little or 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"), one of the driving forces behind the Commune movements of the 1960s and 70snote , 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 throughnote . 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. This article illustrates some of the real life problems with romanticizing farm life and how many farmers are actually devoting at least part of their land to The Theme Park Version to attract tourist$.
- Zgizagged 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. Being the obsessive studier and planner that he is, he quickly takes to the new material, at least, academically wise. Though he never gets the top marks in anything, to his disappointment, he impresses everyone else by 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.
- Played with in Only Yesterday. The main character Taeko visits distant relatives once a year to help them harvest, getting to stay for free in exchange. While getting tired and sometimes complaining about back pain, she doesn't show any trouble with the work despite working as a office worker in Tokyo throughout the year. But since it is hinted that she has done this for quite a while, she might at least know the basics and just struggle with the physical part due to her desk job.
- City Girl: Kate hates her life as a waitress in the hot, noisy, crowded city of Chicago. She dreams of the countryside as peaceful paradise, and gets the chance to make those dreams come true when she meets and marries Lem, a farmer in Chicago to sell his wheat. She arrives and finds that not only is a lot of hard work required, the people Down on the Farm can be just as selfish and brutal as the ones in the city.
- 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).
- Remember, garlic butter fans, this was supposed to take place long ago, and besides, not everyone wants garlic butter.
- Subverted in Another Time, Another Place. The work Janie does is exhausting, painful and poorly paid. The other workers aren't much company either.
- At the end of The Omega Man after the last scientist on Earth has died, the survivors leave the city for an implied idyllic life in the country.
- 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.
- Discussed Trope 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 — an 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 vejk tells basically the same tale as Mark Twain's one mentioned above, only about a zoological almanac. Which is, as Marek is generally a Haek'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.
- In John Ringo's 2008 The Last Centurion, the titular 1st person narrator is a farmer, and goes on a long length about how complex real farming is, especially when done on the production scale necessary to feed the world. His comments on organic farming, and city people who want to "get back to the land", are equally pointed, and none too complimentary.
- 16-17th century English Pastoral literature was often like this, most famously the early example of Christopher Marlowe's "The Passionate Shepherd to his Love", in which the only reference to actual shepherding is that he will "pull" the wool from lambsnote to make his Love's gown. Apart from that, they're mostly going to sit around admiring the countryside. With silver plates and gold shoe-buckles. Sir Walter Raleigh's Answer Song "The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd" is rather scathing about this.
- Subverted in one 1997 Pat Mc Manus story, "The Farm." Stressed and unable to sleep, Pat goes to his doctor who tells him he needs an imaginary farm where he can imagine doing relaxing agricultural work. Pat, who grew up on a farm, instead imagines a farm where he's stuck working round the clock due to Disaster Dominoes and becomes even more stressed out and unable to sleep.
- In Cold Mountain, Papa Monroe buys a farm in the South basically as a hobby to pass the time while he works on writing. But when he dies, his daughter Ada can't find anyone to buy the land, and would starve were it not for the intrusion of Ruby, a resourceful woman in need of a place. Ruby teaches Ada everything about working a farm, and when Ada suggests that they'll rest when snowbound in winter, Ruby promptly lists out ten tasks for that season alone.
- Good Omens has but one paragraph on this trope (the backstory of Pepper's mother), but it is a paragraph rich in detail. Suffice to say that Pepper's mother "began to glimpse why almost the entire drive of human history has been an attempt to get as far away from Nature as possible."
- Subverted by the 1632 series. When 17th century German farmers have the opportunity to leave their farms to join the new industrial revolution, or to join the army during wartime, many of them accept the chance readily. When the dangers are pointed out to them, they respond that working in a factory can't be any more dangerous than farming life. And even fighting in war doesn't scare men who've seen multiple relatives killed in farming accidents.
- 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.
- David Banner on The Incredible Hulk also took a lot of part-time farm jobs, and despite his background as a lab-bound research scientist he never had any trouble at it ... except when the plot dictated that he should Hulk out in frustration, in which case he'd suddenly become prone to work-related accidents.
- Parodied on The Mitchell And Webb Situation 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!"
- PBS historical reality show Frontier House showed three modern-day families trying to establish homesteads in Montana the way pioneers in 1883 would have lived. After filming from June to October, a panel of historical experts were called to judge which homesteads would survive the winter. All three families were found to have insufficient firewood, one didn't have enough food for themselves or the livestock, and one, while physically prepared, was crippled by developing domestic strife.
- "The Desk" episode of Barney Miller shows an ex-con, Gil Lesco (Don Calfa), who had a Lobotomy and is now functioning at a very basic, almost childlike level. Also in the squadroom is an Amish farmer, Caleb Webber (played by veteran actor Jeff Corey) who's been robbed. Webber talks to Lesco about typical farm work, and ultimately Lesco decides to accompany Webber back to the farm.
Webber. Wake up, feed the chickens, milk the cows, get some water, chop wood, plow a few acres.Lesco. Then what?Webber. Breakfast.
- 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.
- There were, and still are, radio stations with a farm or rural format, featuring local and syndicated talk shows, describing every aspect of farming. You can now hear these in podcast form also. A few episodes of "Your Farm Family", "My Farm Radio" or "Agri Talk" will quickly dispense with the notion that this is in any way simple.
- 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 far, far easier than in Real Life- for instance, you can make your crops grow on demand by adding bone meal. There are also very few pests to deal with that can't be kept away with a simple fence, they're ready to harvest mere days after planting rather than taking several weeks, and they can be grown indoors lit only with torchlight. As for livestock, they only need to be fed when the player wants them to breed (and they'll give birth instantly), they never become aggressive or defiant (not that they can be used for much more than meat), and they're all One Gender Races. Somewhat enforced in this as in other video games, since games are intended to be... what was that word again... fun.
- Farming Simulator averts this a little. While farming is definitely simpler than in real life as technicalities such as weather, soil composition, humidity, crop varieties and animal health are absent, you do have to use quite a bit of equipment to grow, maintain and harvest the different crops of the game, and feeding your animals requires an entire new set of tools and equipment. For example: to harvest thin-stemmed crops (wheat, canola, barley or soybeans) you must use a harvester with one header (and if you harvested wheat or barley, you'd better gather the resulting hay deposits with a baler and sell them to a bale dealer for a pretty sizable profit), to harvest thick-stemmed crops (sunflower and corn) you need another header, to harvest chaff for cattle fodder you need a special harvester with a suitable header and a tipper because these harvesters don't have built-in storage, to harvest poplar trees you need that same harvester with a different header, to harvest potatoes you first need a top cutter and then a tractor-pulled harvester...
- World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria 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. Given a Hand Wave by the powerfully rich soil (enhanced by the water from the Vale of Eternal Blossoms) of the zone, and on that plot of land in particular.
- Justified with the garrison herb garden in Warlords of Draenor, though. You don't grow the herbs yourself, the garrison staff does it for you. You can also assign a follower with the herbalism special to it to increase your yield, thus delegating to an expert.
- Stardew Valley is built on this. Your protagonist, despite being a former office drone until ennui set in, has no problems handling a hoe, scythe, water can, axe or pickaxe with ease. Crops will grow just fine as soon as the seeds are planted and just needs to be watered daily and have a nearby scarecrow to keep birds away; once fully grown, can be harvested with ease. Farm animals do fine as long as they have a patch of grass or some hay to eat, and only need to be petted once in a while, besides the milking, shearing and collecting eggs stuff. However, it's implied that you have a special connection to nature (which is why the Junimo love you), which could account for your farming knack. In addition, you literally own your land completely with no bills or taxes to pay so you can put all your money towards the next purchase, and you don't even need to eat (although eating restores your health and energy, allowing you to work even more).
- Justified in Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse. Despite the complications being in a city where the sun doesn't shine due to a giant rock ceiling until Shesha destroys part of it and needing to use artificial light for crops, most of the farmers seem happy and enthusiastic about their work. Of course, the only other job is demon hunting, which has a very high mortality rate. Farming may be hard, but it's much easier in comparison.
- 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.
- Averted in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic — Rarity tries to impress her visiting crush Trenderhoof by changing her image, as he's in love with farm pony Applejack. Their knowledge of farm life is severely limited.
- Also averted in "Magical Mystery Cure" where it shows that a pony who knows nothing of farming, in this case the fun-loving Pinkie Pie, would run Sweet Apple Acres into the ground in very short order.
- While it's mainly baking with farming on the side, King Roland from Sofia the First believes this, so much that when he accidentally wishes that he was a baker instead of a king he wants to stay for a while rather than undo the spell. Reality Ensues and the family fails to adapt, with them only getting by because Sofia and her mother have actual farming experience.
- After World War I 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. Though the villagers actually did very well for themselves when sent on ahead to do this alone (the food was plentiful and delicious), they still faced shortages, fertile soil washing away in the rain, and once lost some of their harvest in a storm. And eventually, a depraved cult leader hoarding what crops they did successfully produce.
- 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 (for one thing, the yearly rainfall estimates were based on what turned out to be a couple of abnormally wet years), and the homesteaders themselves didn't understand local ecology well enough to cultivate the land properly. Mismanagement of the land combined with one of the worst droughts in US history led to large-scale erosion and loss of topsoil, and the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.
- This was one of the ways the U.S. government tried to solve the "Indian problem": if them dang lazy Indians were given plots of land and taught to farm and worship Christ, they would be more easily assimilated as "productive" members of Anglo society. Many Native Americans grew their own crops long before the Anglos got here, and many were fine with Christianitynote but the disastrous reservation breakup of 1890 was an attempt to get the roaming, hunter-gatherer Plains nations to do the same. The problem, again, was the land: that region is just not suitable for prosperous farming, but the Indians were blamed and the government cut their rations. Since the American Bison had already been virtually wiped out, you now had thousands of starving Indian people. The 1890 Ghost Dance tragedy arose out of this situation.
- 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 areas, 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.
- Many settlers of Canada (and other American countries) experienced this trope first hand. As Susannah Moodie describes it in her Real Life account in Roughing it in the Bush: "[Folders advertising colonial farming] told of lands yielding forty bushels to the acre, but they said nothing of the years when these lands, with the most careful cultivation, would barely return fifteen; when rust and smut, engendered by the vicinity of damp over-hanging woods, would blast the fruits of the poor emigrant's labour, and almost deprive him of bread. They talked of log houses to be raised in a single day, by the generous exertions of friends and neighbours, but they never ventured upon a picture of the disgusting scenes of riot and low debauchery exhibited during the raising, or upon a description of the dwellings when raised—dens of dirt and misery, which would, in many instances, be shamed by an English pig-sty. The necessaries of life were described as inestimably cheap; but they forgot to add that in remote bush settlements, often twenty miles from a market town, and some of them even that distance from the nearest dwelling, the necessaries of life, which would be deemed indispensable to the European, could not be procured at all, or, if obtained, could only be so by sending a man and team through a blazed forest road,—a process far too expensive for frequent repetition."
- The Khmer Rouge tried to reshape the whole of Cambodia into an self-sufficient agrarian society. The result was up to two million dead.
- Many Hippies turned to this in the back to the land movement after initially gathering and organizing in cities. The magazine Mother Earth News was founded to provide easy-to-understand but realistic instruction for hippie farmers. (There was also Stewart Brand's Whole Earth Catalog, Living on the Earth by Alicia Bay Laurel (still in print) and Joan Shortney's How to Live on Nothing.) Some of these Communes still exist today. Presumably some hippies with rural backgrounds knew what they were getting into, although Stephen Gaskin's Farm had a very rough start. One of the harshest critics of communal life, Valerie Solanas in her "SCUM Manifesto", had the utmost contempt for male hippies who longed for The Simple Life and existence at a "mere species level" — not because they thought it was that, but because she did. She regarded farming as a "simple, non-intellectual activity". She didn't have a clue.
- James Burke's documentary Connections points out that a lot of urbanites believe that they could survive an apocalypse if they got out of the city fast enough; after all, they could just find an abandoned part of land and start farming. Yeah ... no. There's a reason that serious believers in the end of the world start building their colonies so early (and, thus, resources like night classes, mail order catalogs, and the Internet are all still up and running). There won't be time to learn later.