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Moving from “just new here” to “experienced”

Moving ahead on the learning curve requires you to make a mental switch

Eventually, I will get it. Eventually, I will understand farming and agriculture. I don’t know when, though. And when I retreat inside my own brain to take stock what I do in fact know, the process gets interrupted by questions such as, what does it really mean to know or learn anything?

The first time I attended Brandon Ag Days as a Manitoba Pulse & Soybean Growers employee I survived the week on nervous energy. I was at the booth from setup to takedown. It was a frenzy of activity.

I chatted with a slew of farmers, leaning heavily on my sense of humour and fresh-to-the-farm charm when tackling their agronomic questions. It worked. I could point them in the right direction — to the people who had answers to their questions. And they left the booth believing chatting with me wasn’t a complete waste of time.

I had meaningful conversations. I’d end the Keystone Centre portion of the day and head to the Motel 6, where, last year, I had columns due for this newspaper and the National Post. On the same day, I believe.

In a few hours, I would return to the booth and do it all over again.

This year has been a completely different experience — almost recognizable to the last. But this is the interesting thing about learning, in general. It happens so slowly sometimes that progress and/or the acquisition of actual knowledge is hard to recognize.

It turns out, I know more this year than I did in 2017. For one, this year we have enough staff to setup a shift schedule for managing the booth. So, I’m not a nervous ball of energy. I was able to take the event in a mental space somewhere between work mode and chill. It was nice.

More significantly, though — especially to the subject matter of this column — is that not only did I have more chats with more farmers, but I was also able to answer more of their questions, which allowed those conversations to go deeper than a joke and a redirect.

Oddly, I also knew a lot more people at the event than I did last year. I didn’t think I had met that many new people in 12 months, but apparently I did. Fantastic.

So, I learned a few things since last January. That’s great. It sure beats moving backwards. But what is it about us — or maybe it’s just me — that prevents us from being able to properly track our own trajectories?

When Jamie and I moved to the farm in 2012, we were new to the area. I said, “we just moved back,” to my old friends I’d run into at the local grocery store. I did this for years. And I started to say it again to the maybe one or two people from my past I haven’t run into in the last six years, but I caught myself.

I can’t say that anymore. I can’t say we just moved back. It’s been six years. It doesn’t feel that way, though. When will it? I may never.

I recently received a letter from a European immigrant, who told me that even though he’s been in Canada for many years, he still feels like a newcomer. I get it.

So, in my scenario, the hurdle is when do I change from being the one who asks all the questions to the one who can maybe answer a few? Or even the one who could challenge some old, dusty agricultural norms?

These questions are slightly rhetorical. Asking questions is a good thing and I always want to be the guy who feels comfortable doing so. But I’m also quite fond of challenging held beliefs.

If Ag Days is the bellwether of my agricultural knowledge, then things are moving in the right direction. I am no longer new to rural life and perhaps I can no longer say I’m new to the farm. I can say this — or, in this case, write this — but it’s going to take a while before I fully believe that I’m not both of those things.

Whatever the case, and however I feel about where I’m at on the learning curve, I will hopefully never stop asking questions and writing about the simple things, concepts, practices that others may not feel comfortable tackling.

I will be driving north on Hwy 10 on my way to Ag Days 2019 and I won’t feel any different than I do now. But, guess what, those conversations will be more frequent and will steer even deeper. That’s the hope, anyway.

About the author

Columnist

Toban Dyck is a freelance writer and a new farmer on an old farm. Follow him on Twitter @tobandyck or email [email protected]

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