I am blessed beyond belief to have parents who raised me with a strong emphasis on the joyous aspect of play. Ours was a household with strict television bans and repercussions for blatant usage of the phrase “I’m bored.”

For a neighbor friend and I, my dad built a trail through the trees in order to ease our movements from house to house, and the path became our highway to adventure. We would each head out under the guise of visiting the other’s homestead, meet halfway in between, and roar off into field and forest unbeknownst to anyone but ourselves. Those years were truly the most fun I have ever had.

It’s been studied and recounted almost to the point of being cliché that play is a crucial aspect in the development of creativity and problem solving. Despite this reality, we all hit some point in our life that play becomes a silly, childish quirk, and the thought of play is almost completely eliminated from our adult work lives as a result. I grew up and walked right out of the play book, yet as time wore on I started to see cracks in the framework of society that I never expected to see. My recollections of freeing imagination do not fit well into the “conquer, simplify and streamline” mindset that permeates our standard work culture.

Our obsession with separating work and play has resulted in a society that no longer necessitates curiosity. Curiosity leads to mastery of a subject as it pulls our minds forward in an unrelenting quest for just a little bit more information. People are inveterate reductionists, and we have largely eliminated the sacredness of understanding from the nobility of work. A job that requires skills that can be mastered in 20 minutes does not rouse anyone’s imagination, yet many of the jobs available today fall into this simplistic category. Human resources who have a job and can’t envision a purpose for it end up hating the task and creating all sorts of imaginative schemes to avoid employment or increase their pay, neither of which will solve the root of the problem nor improve their lives.

Fortunately, the emerging model of people-intensive, direct-to-consumer agriculture may be precisely the opportunity extremely capable individuals are seeking to escape the drudgery of staring at a computer screen all day. The first step to offering such a haven for innovative people is a greater shift in the agricultural paradigm, which itself has been reduced down to simplified, hard work and a corresponding lifestyle that has become the epitome of difficulty in the eyes of society.

If and when more farmers adjust their focus from a commodity practice to a people intensive, specialty retail enterprise, the door will be opened for people to flow back into the trade. Such a paradigm shift will not occur until a few pioneering individuals become curious enough to depart from the status quo to see what happens when they try something different at home.

This idea about pursuing curiosity and allowing everything else to fall into place is a difficult one to convey. Probably the biggest stumbling block for many is the idea that they already know everything there is to learn about their chosen field of expertise (farmers are notorious for just such a thought process).

For example, I watched the following scenario play out time and time again at the Pittsburgh Public Market during its existence: a farmer-vendor would arrive on the scene, full of vigor and excitement to put out the open sign and watch customers swarm their booth like traders on the floor of the stock exchange. After a few weeks or months of paltry sales, the farmer would leave, frequently grumbling about poor management of the market and the obvious truth that this whole “local marketing” scheme is bogus. These departures are painful to watch because I see such importance in returning our food to a regional scale, and a multitude of successful farmers are required to make such a dream happen.

I learned pretty quickly that what I “know” does not matter in the least — it is what our customers know that carries weight, and it is my job to learn from them to provide a product they desire. Fortunately, unending curiosity emanating from my childhood adventures enabled me to set aside my ego and start from scratch to encounter new understanding. It is pertinent that farmers aspiring to enter the direct marketing scene understand this reality: we must start our businesses with the intent of seeking answers first. Everything else will fall into place later.

The childlike traits of curiosity, unending enthusiasm and freedom from established paradigms are the survival tools needed to fill our work lives with vigor. Our community has stuck together through thick and thin, and it is the opinion of many that, as industry departs from Clarion and the surrounding area, the door has opened to provide new opportunities to infuse community with agriculture and create a food haven others come to visit.

Our area touts a huge number of people who are committed to local business and the betterment of the region. Let’s keep the ball rolling and focus on making a great region even better for the enjoyment of all. It will be extraordinarily difficult, requiring ridiculous imagination, considerable adaptability, and multiple viewpoints to consider, but, who knows, it might be the most fun we ever had.

[John-Scott farms with his family just outside of Clarion. He can be reached at clarionfarms@windstream.net.]

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