Life on the Land
By Doug Fabbioli
Growing up in suburbia in the 70s and 80s gave me the chance to enjoy both city and country life. I knew the city of Syracuse pretty well, attending the university, working in an office, playing in a bowling league, and having a bit of an urban lifestyle. On the other hand, my friend’s dad (an accountant in “real” life) decided to plant a vineyard and I was cheap farm labor. On the weekends, I would drive out to the countryside to put some time in on the vineyard. Sometimes I would do pruning and trellis work, sometimes I’d work on the barn, sometimes it was land clean up. I enjoyed learning about the land, the vines, and the work, especially the installation of the trellises and tending the vines. The feeling of nurturing the vines so they would grow to their potential was rewarding, and when I hit that magic point in life where I needed to make a leap towards a career, the life on the farm and in the country had a stronger gravitational pull on me—the road less traveled, if you will.
There are no recruiters out there working the universities to encourage the soon-to-be graduates to come live a life on the land. Gallo would send somebody out to find some potential sales reps, but that was all I ever saw for the wine industry. Introducing young folks to opportunities on the land is the best way to get people to consider the option. We will always need people to be stewards of the land, to farm it, tend it, work it, and rely on it. The more we have of that, the more people will recognize the value of the land for more than just another building site.
I have gotten hooked lately on a TV series (and I’m not the only one) called Yellowstone. Briefly, it’s about a modern-day rancher and his family trying to maintain land and lifestyle in 21st century Montana. Included in the package are storylines about family drama, politics, workplace conflict, land use issues, wildlife conservation, Native American land, and representation issues, all mixed in with horses, cattle, violence, humor, heartstrings, learning, and incredible scenery. I’m not here to endorse a TV show, but I do appreciate the ways they promote the rural lifestyle to those of us who tune in to watch.
There have been a few storylines over the seasons of young bucks coming onto the ranch and learning about what it means to be a cowboy. We, as viewers, get to learn the steps along with these greenhorns. We also get to see the teaching styles that the seasoned cowboys put to use in the process. This show defines the cowboy in the truest light possible: a lonely life on the land doing a dangerous job with your horse and a rope as your most important tools. You do the job that needs to be done and there is nobody behind you to fix it if you mess it up, and nobody to click “like” if you do a great job. Cowboy up and get the job done.
Now I am not a cowboy, nor do I aspire to be one. I fell off a horse for the last time over 20 years ago. However, I greatly respect the choices they make and the authenticity they continue to earn. Here on our lands, I replace the word cowboy with farmer. We may not have the loneliness of the open prairie, but we have jobs that need to get done, animals and crops to tend, no 40-hour work week or defined weekend, and an endless number of challenges that can mess up our day. But we also get to enjoy the land, make the most of the sunshine, work as a group as well as alone, be challenged, and share our knowledge with the next buckaroo to step into this world. We use science, the trades, computers, communication, organizational skills, business skills, and leadership. Sometimes we all have to “cowboy up” in order to get the job done and get through the day. More than anything, we use our hands, our heads, and our hearts in order to make a living that will sustain us, our families, our lifestyle, and our lands.
Next month I will have filled 6 decades of living in this body and on this earth. I’ve made some choices that may not have been conventional. My continued goal is to encourage more young people to consider a career and a life more closely connected to the land. My efforts through The New Ag School are best defined as that. George Washington was a land surveyor before he was a farmer, general and political leader. We all can be more than one thing, but keeping ourselves based in the land maintains the endless respect for the land and those that work it. Remember: no farms, no food. No wine, beer, or whiskey either. Be sure to enjoy a locally-made glass of red wine and a nice, rare rib-eye when you watch Governor John Dutton (Kevin Costner) leave his government duties behind as he mounts his horse for a morning ride on the ranch. This is quite the life!
About the Author: Farmer, winemaker, entrepreneur, educator, and leader, Doug Fabbioli has been accelerating the growth and quality of Virginia’s wine industry since 1997. With his wife Colleen, Doug is the owner/operator of Fabbioli Cellars in Leesburg, VA. He is the founder and director of The New Ag School, which focuses on teaching the next generation of farmers and agriculture-related leaders. No wonder they call Doug Fabbioli the Godfather of DC’s Wine Country.