Farmers haven’t escaped the problem of labor shortages this spring. Finding good help has been like looking for a bean sprout in a field carpeted with pigweed shoots.
So I was surprised when I got a phone call from a high school kid who was looking for summer work — something to toughen him up before football practice started in August. He wasn’t an athlete, he confided, but he needed a way to improve his chances of getting noticed by the young ladies in his class. He needed to “bulk up” and get a good tan.
Motivation: That’s what you want when you’re looking for somebody to endure heat, bugs and an occasional snake. This guy had motivation.
“So tell me, what kind of experience do you have, Buck?” — that’s what he said his name was, and that sounded sort of encouraging, sort of outdoorsy and strong.
“I used to help my granny in her garden, back when I was a little kid. And I’ve played a lot of video games about farming,” he said.
That’s not what you’re looking for when you’re in the market for somebody who doesn’t mind sweat.
“Video games?” I asked.
“Yes sir,” he said, “like This Little Piggie and Kings of Kale. Or Thistle Thugs. My favorite is Tobacco Toad. It’s got some tough bug bots but lots of easter eggs.”
I had no idea what he was talking about, but I had heard about these computer games. My nephew told me that one called “Stardew Valley” had sold more than 20 million copies, holding the interest of people who didn’t know a turnip from a radish.
“So what do you do in these games?” I asked Buck.
“You gotta fight off all kinds of bad bosses, you gotta put up with tornadoes and hurricanes, and you gotta get your crops to market before they rot or get eaten by rats,” he said. “It’s really hard, but I’ve learned a lot about farming. I think farming would be fun.”
“Well, yes, it sure is,” I said, having my doubts about Buck’s understanding of agriculture but not wanting to discourage him. “Do you have a car, do you have a way to get here?”
“Get there?” he said.
“Yeah,” I said. “We’re near Hedgesville. Do you know where Hedgesville is?”
“I have to be there?” he asked. “Right there?”
I was getting a little confused because he seemed a little confused.
“Where else would you be?” I asked.
“I can’t work remote, on my screen? I can’t work from home?” he asked.
I didn’t know what to say.
“My dad’s been working remote ever since COVID,” Buck continued. “He doesn’t go into the office at all anymore. He does all his work from home, in a little office he set up downstairs in the basement.
“He loves it,” Buck said. “Sometimes he doesn’t even get out of his pajamas until after lunch.”
“We get up pretty early here,” I said. “We eat breakfast, and then we go to the fields, and we work there, planting things and picking things, with our hands right in the dirt.”
“I can’t drive your tractor with my controller?” he said. “I can’t use it to collect your chicken eggs?”
“I don’t think so,” I said. “Doesn’t work that way.”
“I could sit out on my back deck,” he said, “with my laptop. Outside in the sun.”
Real life was probably going to be more than I could explain. I decided to punt.
“Maybe you should look into a career in artificial intelligence,” I said. “Lots of girls go for smart guys. Nerds aren’t nerds anymore.”
Dave Elliott is a farmer in Hedgesville, West Virginia, looking for somebody with their feet on the ground.