i am a farmer, which means that besides an implicit expectation that i know how to make things grow, i am also expected to be able to build shit. fences, sheds, shelves, greenhouses, work-tables, irrigation systems, and of course, the perfectly shaped garden bed. i have never been a confident carpenter. i was not a child who was given a hammer at age three, my own toolbox at age five. i did not work alongside a parent building our home. i did not even put shelves up in my dorm room once i got to college, or in my first apartments later on. i have a memory of my 10-year-old self, attempting to make a treehouse. i hammered three random two by fours up the trunk of tree and climbed up to the third rail. i was maybe 5 feet off the ground. i was high enough to look into the kitchen window, that’s about it. so naturally i emerged into adulthood believing that i was was basically building-impaired.
but that’s because no one ever told me the secret truth: building is not that hard. building is not a man’s work. men are not better equipped to build a shelf in the garage (unless they are using their penis in there when we are not looking). men are not born with a knack for calculating measurements or using a saw. and yet, this is kind of what i thought. this story was even further validated as i began to farm. time and time again my male farming counterparts, mostly my superiors, were making and fixing shit. complicated shit. broken rototiller motors. underground root cellars. outdoor kitchens. whole frickin’ houses. meanwhile i drew pretty market signs that i laminated at staples. woohoo. when a particular project was at hand i was enlisted, when enlisted at all, to pull nails. the power tools littered around me seemed large, unwieldy, and dangerous. i was told not to touch them. i pictured a circular saw coming to life in my hands, slicing through a leg or arm. so yeah, i didn’t touch them.
but then i worked under the tutelage of a manager who wanted to empower his employees – all three of which that particular season happened to be women. there was finally no chance for me to be overlooked and equally no chance for me to hide. so i began to learn. i participated in welding the spade arms on our tractor. i helped build a large greenhouse, standing on the lifted bucket of a tractor to screw in each panel. i helped to dry-wall an old shed that became our farm office. with fear in my heart i cut posts for a compost station with a circular saw. and it began to get easier. i built an outdoor bed and learned the hard way that although it sounds romantic to build bed-posts out of trees, its just not. i did all sorts of small repairs around the farm. i built picture frames. i carved spoons. and when i left that job, my going away present from that same manager was a set of tools i still use to this day.
from there i slowly built up steam. outdoor toilets for all of our farm sites, a counter for my kitchen, bamboo flooring for my trailer. i fell in love with the ease of screws, and the brilliance of pre-drilling. i borrowed an impact driver and suddenly realized that screwing a screw is not about skill as much as the right tool. i invested in my own drill set. i bought a circular saw that was slightly smaller, easier to manage for smaller hands and a lighter build. i learned to measure lumber, account for extra inches, be specific. i realized that hours would pass and i would be so engrossed in the process i’d stop only because it was time to have dinner.
my confidence has strengthened over the years. now i relish a good building project. i feel happy when i am planning, cutting, building, creating something useful. shelves are always nice. you can’t have too many shelves as a farmer. i’d picture them here but they are not exactly the belles of the ball. function, not fashion is the mantra for most farm projects. but my latest construction has been to date my proudest. finished last weekend, the last boards cut, the last screws screwed. i built a bed! and not a janky outdoor bed made out of fallen trees i found in the dry creek-bed. no, a janky INDOOR bed made from pallets i collected from behind our local hardware store! except for this bed, i have to say, is arguably not as janky, because a) it actually holds our mattress and us up and b) it looks like something that sells at crate and barrel for a whole lot o’ money. and total cost for mine? about $60.
so yeah, i feel proud. and not just because i built a bed. but because i believed i could build a bed. i imagined something beautiful then i made what i imagined. there were moments i felt lame, ill-equipped, over my head. but i just gently reminded myself that i could do this. and i realized that any activity a guy could do while drinking multiple beers, a woman could also do. i just read that less than 2% of carpenters in our country are women. this isn’t because we don’t like the sound of power-tools (though sometimes i don’t), or lumber is too heavy for our tiny little lady arms. nope, from my own experience i can say that there’s just a lot of intimidation to overcome. combine that with a lack of female role-models and an educational system that doesn’t exactly steer girls into vocational specialties (farming and building alike) and you get very few women checking the carpenter box on the census.
so i am grateful for all the men and women who have taught me the skills i use in my vocation. the teachers who have taught me to tend to seeds and the teachers who have taught me to quiet the mind. the teachers who have taught me to use power-tools safely and those who have taught me basic grammar and syntax. and today i would like to especially thank the teachers who have encouraged me to build the things of the physical world as well as the things i think up in my dreams.