When I was little I mostly disliked dairy farms. They were smelly and muddy. I also disliked the fresh milk that our dairy farming friends delivered to us from time to time (recalled in this unpleasant dream many years later). I’m not a terribly squeamish person, but dairy farms tended to test my toughness.
So I was curious to visit a dairy farm again and see whether they are like I remember.
Mostly the answer is yes, the dairy farm was smelly and muddy, but it was a lovely sunny winter day so muddiness and smelliness were at a minimum. This dairy farm was surprisingly inoffensive.
But you know what is interesting – how even someone like me who grew up near dairy farms acted like visiting a dairy farm would be an anthropological exercise. I would go there and be reminded of life on the land and meet salt of the earth people who I assumed I would disagree with politically but find a common humanity and how it would be a bridge between city and country folk.
This probably says a lot about me being an over-thinking, over-meaningful-ising person who lacks much consequential reality in her own life so she has space and time and the desire to find and create meaningful-ness. (oh, I think I just defined this blog!)
But it also says a lot about how cliches come from common experiences because I went there and met salt of the earth people and was reminded of life on the land. And even though we disagreed politically we enjoyed a common humanity. We also enjoyed common friends. Despite 45 years between us, the farmer and his wife were friends with a friend of mine from Rushworth.
This kind of experience is such an easy one that it shouldn’t be a revolutionary thing. We should just get out more and see for ourselves the way other people live. Dairy farmers 250kms from Melbourne, shop owners up the road, lawyers in the suburbs. Wouldn’t it be good to know each other better?
So I wonder why we don’t know each other better. Why, at every election we say “I honestly don’t know how X party won the election because I don’t know a single person who voted for them”. And why we think people who have come to different conclusions about things like a carbon tax and refugees must be simple-minded folk who just don’t get it or just plain mean. Well, of course you need to know someone before you can so casually call their intellect or kindness into question.
I suspect that humans can only cope with so much contrast and conflict in our daily lives, which is why we thrive on routine and find friends and partners with common values. We avoid meeting our neighbours in case we discover that our neighbours are racist or lonely or something else unappealing to contemplate. It allows us to skate through many days believing that we’ve got some semblance of order.
I enjoyed listening to this podcast with Terry Tempest Williams (yet another excellent episode of APM’s On Being) which explores the connections between people living close by one another geographically who have different ideas about what we need to prosper and how we should use the land.
Reducing community segregation might reduce situations like the one I heard about last week. A city-based student-run think tank was preparing a position paper on agricultural policy but didn’t bother talking to any farmers. I suspect they didn’t ask any farmers because it didn’t occur to them to. But when asked why they hadn’t (I paraphrase and hope I’m vaguely accurate), they thought it wasn’t really necessary because farmers aren’t policy-makers, they’re just farmers.