things to think about

today i am thinking about: (MY VIRTUAL) FARMING COMMUNITY

I just got really into playing Farmville.

I spent the weekend in Carlisle, PA.

Here is what I do in Farmville: I pretend plow my pretend land. I pretend plant pretend seeds. I go to my friends’ pretend farms and help scare away pretend crows and pull pretend weeds. I rescue pretend lost sheep that pretend wander onto my pretend farm. Wheat takes 4 days to grow and earns me pretend money. Strawberries take 4 hours to grow and earn me pretend money. I can grow wheat next to rice and I can grow raspberries next to carrots. I also can have trees, like avocado trees and fig trees and banana trees, and they all live together in pretend farm paradise. I take pretend photos documenting pretend factory farming, just for the hell of it.

Here is what I did in Carlisle, PA (abridged version): I walked around and looked at corn fields. I went to the historical society and learned about Carlisle’s history as a city at the crossroads of much agriculture. But the real deal is I went to the Green Dragon Market, located in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch Country in beautiful Ephrata, PA.

So I have all these pretend neighbors on my pretend farm. One of the main Farmville activities seems to be recruiting neighbors for your farm. You do this by harasssing your friends on Facebook who are not yet playing Farmville and by linking up with the people who are. Other activities include giving your friends gifts for their farm, receiving gifts from them, and helping them, as I mentioned. It is all about the community — aside from moments of activity when you are fake plowing or fake harvesting, you really don’t do a lot in Farmville aside from wander around helping your friends and exchanging these gifts. You can buy most of the gifts in the fake market, but if your friends gift them to you you get them for free. That’s great because aside from harvesting your fake crops, the only way to make fake money in Farmville is spending real money to buy it.

The Green Dragon Market in Ephrata was the first time my outside ass had ever been to a market where Mennonites and Amish people — probably mostly Mennonites, but what do I know — were buying and talking with their friends, not just selling food taciturnly to us outsiders at the Philly Market or even the Carlisle market. They were hanging out, buying food, drinking soda, and having a good time. When I say Mennonites I mean more observant Mennonites (does saying it like this mark me as a Jew?), which I am deciding solely on clothes and speaking something other than English. It was the first time I had been in a place where these folks were just hanging out.

In Farmville I wear fake overalls, a fake blue plaid shirt, fake practical short hair. In Farmville I get things done when I need to. The fake animals don’t need much tending and fake milking the fake cows is very routine. Often I have a chance to stand among my waving fields of fake wheat and fake corn, look out on the fake world around me, and think. I can see my friends’ fake farms. The fake weather is always clear in Farmville. No rain, no mud.

This is what the fashion was at the Green Dragon, at least among many folks. The men and boys — I don’t think they play “male assigned at birth” in Ephrata, PA — wore plaid shirts and jeans. The shirts were red or yellow or blue or green or a mix. They wore suspenders — black or white, a few green, and almost all exactly the same kind with clasps and a plastic slider in the back. They wore jeans — not too dark, please, and blue. They wore plain shoes. They all wore hats — straw colored straw or black colored straw. A boy and his father would wear the same kind of hat. The women and girls would cover their hair, or they’d wear the long dress — formal sleeves, full skirt down to the floor — and the dress would be plain, or made with patterned cloth, and maybe they’d have pants on underneath, and they would definitely have some great sneakers. Maybe they would use a bonnet to cover their hair, maybe they’d have the see-through thing. I cannot begin to explain to you what these things mean — it’s very complicated and too subtle for an outsider — I can just report what I saw. There were a lot of rough hands and dirty nails — I checked. I was curious. You should click those links. I was wearing yellow boat shoes. Skinny dark jeans. A white collar shirt. A light pink sweater. A silver Members Only-esque windbreaker. It is kind of fun to so clearly not be from somewhere.

In Farmville I am intimately involved in the production of food. I till the fake land. I pick which fake crops to fake plant. I harvest them. It doesn’t rain in Farmville, and it doesn’t really require a lot of work, but this is still the most involved in food production I have ever been, if you don’t count U-Pick blueberries or ordering delivery. I have been looking at all these real corn fields and even feeling proud of myself: hey! I fake do that too! I fake plant crops and watch over them, even though nothing ever happens in Farmville. I get excited when it’s fake harvest time. It’s pretty real awesome. I’m saving up to buy a bigger farm.

I am curious about what it is like to be a farmer while acknowledging I am never going to be a farmer. There was an auction at the back of one of the shops at the market, and they were auctioning rabbits and chickens and guinea pigs and one turkey. The auction was amazing because it was clearly for the people in the neighborhood — come, sell a rabbit, buy a chicken, hang out, talk shop. Little boys dressed like their dads talking to their friends. Girls dressed like their moms talking to their friends. Everybody eating ice cream and watching the bidding. I wanted to ask how it worked but I figured these people probably didn’t feel like translating for an alien. I wondered if those boys talking would still be talking like that in 20 years from now, or sitting down while their sons talked. I wondered if the girls would still be talking like that 20 years from now, sitting in the barn while their daughters sat out back and laughed about the alien outsider. This way of life has survived and will keep surviving, I imagine, even at the risk of factory farming. Even at the risk of aliens like me wanting to come spectate and eat sticky buns and ask older ladies how things work. As if I am ever going to need to know how to navigate a small animal auction.

I like to think about a world where I actually care about food justice issues and where I am invested in where my food comes from, where I have some relationship to it aside from “reheat” or “stir in some water” or maybe, on a good day, “cut up and stir in a pan with some eggs.” I do not anticipate this world coming soon, maybe never. It was surprising to me how at peace I was with how alien the world of the Green Dragon felt — I knew I would never be there. I am not going to have that kind of relationship with land, and I am not growing up in a community where my parents grew up, and their parents before them, and their parents before them. A lot of my community these days looks like helping other people clean up after fake crows and pull up fake weeds, and I admit that I almost feel good about this. I feel like I need a hermitage and a return to something simpler. I don’t want to romanticize rural living — I am longing for some skyscrapers at this point, I tell you what — but it’s tempting and it’s easy, right? A chicken starts at a dollar five. Eggs are a dollar a dozen, you gotta buy 5 dozen. It’s like Orthodox Judaism — just follow the rules, and you’ll turn out ok. You’ll have people around you who have your back. The rules out here in the rest of the world feel, usually, more complicated — at least for real life face to face transactions.

Double click and bring in the wheat harvest. Double click to help scare off crows. Sometimes it feels a little strange.