Statistically, one of the most dangerous occupations in this country is agriculture, and the reason (if you forget the pesticide exposure many farmers must endure) is the machinery. To work safely with power machinery requires that one’s attention be on safety—on the machine, that is—as much as on the work itself.
This is—no surprise—the same basic, humane argument I have against pesticides: When your thoughts have to dwell on protecting yourself and others (including the plants) from accidental injury rather than on the task at hand—on that task’s meaning and context, and on new ways that it could be done better—you have sold your human birthright and become merely an extension of the technology. For me, that is a cosmic line in the sandy loam over which I do not wish to step; it is one fence which doesn’t have, for me, greener grass beyond.
Even if home-scale tillers, cultivators, mowers, trimmers, shredders, and chippers are not quite as dangerous as their farm-scale relatives, they are every bit as noisy, smelly, and unpleasant to work with. So while we still use the tractor to do spring preparation of our test gardens, I’ve gone back to working by hand in our own family garden, which I want to be a place of quiet contemplation and discovery, a place where I—and my kids—can enjoy the pleasures of the garden itself, not just one more situation where the needs of a machine will determine the pace of my activities.
Machines allow us to do more, but let us experience less. And their apparent efficiency may be illusory, at least on a home scale. I can turn a 12×12-foot bed by hand in half an hour, or till it in fifteen minutes. But that fifteen minutes logged in the ledger book does not count the five minutes I need to start the tiller and drive it to the garden; the five minutes to drive it back to the shed; the occasional hour spent on maintenance or driving to the dealer to obtain some necessary part; or even the extra time I have to work to earn the money to buy the tiller in the first place. This is a kind of blind efficiency: we have become so obsessed with quantity—the size of our garden, the number of our tools, the speed at which we can work—that we have unconsciously fallen into an industrial paradigm, even within the part of our lives we still call our own.