Get Out of the Cab Once in a While

By Doug Fabbioli

Get Out of the Cab Once in a While

This winter we had a bit more snow than usual, and the snow removal process is something that we get to do ourselves out on the farm. I heard the comment from somebody, and I cannot remember who, that “the plow driver does not get out of the cab of the truck.” I understand the logic of this: keeping that machine moving is the most efficient way to get the job done. There is always more snow to push and the machine sure does it fast. But the machine cannot do it all. A little shoveling or fine tuning is needed sometimes to finish the job. Ok, but what does this have to do with the wine industry here in northern Virginia?

As good as we farmers are at our jobs, we need to make the time to teach the next generation what we have learned. I often hear someone grumbling that the younger generations do not want to work, but part of that may be simply that our generation is not willing to teach! You can’t mentor a new learner from the cab of the tractor; you need to get out and share your thoughts once in a while. The understanding that goes along with the actions is the key to the success of the job, and the skills learned through experience give credibility. I remember many years ago being at a cooperage assembly forum hosted by a few barrel companies from France. I was quite impressed because a couple of the reps were the owners of the company, with the same last names as the ones branded on the heads of the barrels. I was even more impressed when two of these grey-haired gentlemen pulled off their suit coats, tucked in their ties, rolled up their sleeves, and started pounding the hoops of a partially finished barrel. Their hammer swings were powerful, deliberate, and productive. Although their job is running a cooperage, their skill and authenticity was built on the shop floor constructing barrels. Their experience showed with each blow to the barrel hoop. As they explained what they were doing to craft the best barrels for my wine, it was clear that they put a lot more than brute force into the process, and that their skills came from a lifetime of learning.

We rely on teachers and our education system to teach the next generation the things they need to know. We hope that the kids have learned the basics, and can find an inner passion to keep learning. But most of the details and context for any productive job need to be learned on the job, and as society’s agricultural practices got bigger, the jobs became more tractor-driving than teamwork. Those of us already doing the job need to harness the students’ desire to learn and effectively mentor them in order to train them and build them up to take over from us one day. This process is one of the most important issues in our agricultural industries. The average age of our farmers today is 65 and that average continues to rise. I have a neighbor farmer who is working over 800 acres, is over 80 years old and has not trained anyone to do the job that he does. I love this old man, but he did not take advantage of the day-to-day working operation to train up someone to help him or to take over. We have a lot of acres around here in northern Virginia that will need a farmer/steward/caretaker in a few years to keep them healthy and productive. We need to train a new generation to step in.

Our efforts at the New Ag School are about addressing these needs, advocating for and providing an agricultural education for all. We have been focusing on the high school students but we work with the second-career farmers as well. Encouraging our people who already have the skills and experience to share them with the next generation, and in the hands-on way where the learning happens, is critical. Check out the website at Newagschool.org for more information and to see how you can help. Remember to get out of the cab once in a while to teach someone a little bit about what you are doing. You never know who will pick up your words and run with them!

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