Everyone knows what a farmer looks like, right? Denim overalls, with a plaid shirt rolled to the elbows. He carries a pitchfork, clomps around in muddy boots, and wears a straw hat. Culturally, we’re experts at identifying farmers. After all, we’ve been trained to recognize them since we were kids. How many of us grew up with farm play sets, stocked with plastic cows and sheep? By age five every kid knows the song Old McDonald, and can imitate all the livestock sounds in the barnyard.
But now that we’re adults, our agricultural education could use some serious updating. Today, farming is squarely back in the national spotlight, and for the first time in generations agriculture is a hot commodity. So in the interest of expanding our knowledge about the food we eat, here are 5 men—in chronological order—who shatter everything we thought we knew about the farming life.
Let’s go back… waaaay back, to the Time of Togas. Cincinnatus (519 BC – 430 BC) was a statesman who was twice named dictator of Rome, and on each occasion relinquished his power to return to the farm he loved. After defeating his enemies, Cincinnatus went back to his homestead after only 16 days of rule. Many years later he was called to duty a second time, yet once again resigned as soon as his mission was completed. (Evidently, this man liked po-taters a lot more than dic-tators!)
A few thousand years later, they even named a town in Ohio after him. How could another farmer ever top that?
Oh, right. George Washington not only has a city named after him, he has a state, too. But between fighting in the French and Indian War, negotiating the British surrender at Yorktown, and serving two terms as our first President, Washington’s greatest passion was his farm at Mount Vernon overlooking the Potomac River. Here, he implemented progressive manure composting techniques, mixing proprietary blends of horse, sheep and cow dung. Suffice to say, our founding father really knew his shit! A farmer like George Washington only comes along once in a generation.
Make that two generations. George Washington Carver was born sixty five years after our first president passed away, but his impact on agriculture was much more profound. Widely acclaimed for being nuts about peanuts, Carver is credited for implementing the crucial practice of crop rotation, which rebuilt soil fertility during a time of widespread demineralization. Carver was also a tireless inventor, and was able to derive products such axle grease, shaving cream and shoe polish from plant-based materials. Although he is the one farmer on this list who never had children of his own, he is rightly considered a “father” of modern agriculture. A college professor at Tuskegee University for over half of his life, Carver bequeathed his entire fortune to academic scholarships when he passed away in 1943.
In 1943, Dwight Eisenhower was a long way from his childhood farm in Abilene, Kansas. As the Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe, he had already spearheaded the Allied assault on North Africa; now, he turned his attention to a risky gambit in Northwest France that would later be known as D-Day. After serving two terms as president, he retired to a 189 acre farm just outside of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the home of his ancestors. Today, his farm is a national historical site.
Like Ike, many of the men who served in World War II were farm boys, fighting for a cause worthy of the ultimate sacrifice. What is it about being a farm kid that imbues so much grit and moxy?
Speaking of grit, Shel Silverstein might have written the song, but it was Johnny Cash who gave it guts:
“My name is Sue! How do you do? Now… you’re gonna die!”
Who else but the Man in Black could so convincingly convey this vitriol? It’s enough to make a guy change his name to Tiffany just to be as cool as Cash.
Johnny Cash grew up on his family’s farm in Arkansas, and by age five was picking cotton alongside his brothers and sisters. Throughout his tumultuous music career, Cash always found solace on his farm. In 1983, however, he was kicked so hard by a farm ostrich that he found himself relapsing on pain killers.
Folks, there are a million ways to get hurt on a farm. Leave it to Johnny Cash to get kicked in the stomach by a seven foot tall bird.
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Farming is undeniably cool again, and these five names only strengthen that perception. Who wouldn’t want to grow their own food, be their own boss, and raise a family where the green grass grows? If it’s good enough for Roman Emperors, Presidents, Inventors and Music Legends, then it’s good enough for me, too. And as a father, it’s nice to know that my own son will have such prestigious company if he decides to become a farmer someday like his dad.