I was stunned a few years back when a friend in state government who worked on an education task force for Arnold Schwarzenegger told me that schools no longer taught shop classes. Everything is college prep, now. I was reminded of this again by a recent thoughtful article in the New York Times, “The Case for Working with your Hands“.  I took a few shop classes when I was in school and learned much from them, both about skilled crafts and about myself. Had my circumstances been different, it’s very possible I would have had a career in which I worked with my hands.

But, my circumstances were that I had high test scores and a Federal government that wanted my body in Vietnam if it wasn’t in school. So, I went to college. But, what my heart yearned to do was to work, to be out of school and to learn about the real world. It’s anyone’s guess–and I’ve certainly wondered about it a lot over the years–where my life would have gone had I been able to work instead of going to school. I’m certain I eventually would have gone to school if I had followed my heart; I’m equally certain my academic path would have been different.

What I do know is that the first class I took after college graduation was in furniture upholstery, my next ones were in photography. Both involved working with my hands and both involved creativity. So, it should have come as no surprise to me decades later to realize that the things that have given me the most joy the past few years almost always have involved working with my hands in some creative pursuit: building kayaks, weaving, landscaping, gardening, dancing (well, that’s working with my feet), playing music and photography. There are a few things that are mostly just physical (kayaking & canoeing) and some that are mostly just creative (writing). But, I now know what I wanted to learn those many years ago: I’m a physical and creative creature.

I mention all of this because working with my hands and my heart are the two primary reasons I grow food. Sure, there are other reasons. But gardening provides a chance to physically connect with nature–in fact, to BE a natural man–and to be creative. I know this because being physical and being creative bring me great joy.

So, I mention these things to encourage others, especially my younger friends who are beginning their careers, to follow their heart if it leads them to working with their hands. This may be to become a farmer, rural or urban. This is, of course, what many of them are doing. I see it with some of my new friends in the gardening world. I also know it’s happening on a larger scale when the New York Times writes about it, too. In short, if your heart leads you to a career in farming, your hands and head will figure out a way to make it happen. Do it.