“Hello, this is the Galway Dating Service. Sarah speaking.” “What’s the craic? Looking for a bird for meself,” Tristan, my Irish friend, said into the receiver, swapping his Dublin accent for a gruff, rural enunciation that probably didn’t exist. We saw the phone number in the newspaper that morning.

Dennis ryan
Ryan Dennis is the author of The Beasts They Turned Away, a novel set on a dairy farm. Visit his ...

“Why don’t you give us some information about yourself, Sir?”

“I’m a farmer, you see,” he said. “You know yourself she’d have to be sturdy.”

“We can start with your previous relationship experience.”

“A traveler told me that you can buy one off the Internet these days.”


I bit into my knuckles and held my breath just listening to my friend. Tristan, too, was turning red and swallowing his uncontrollable smile.

“Well Sir, there are online dating sites – ”

“Say I wanted a large girl. Would it take more gigabytes to get a bigger woman off the computer?”

“Sir – ”

“To be sure now, would I be going out with you? Are you free tonight anyway?”

Tristan, who is a city boy, is a premier prank caller. He had gotten me several times, even after I had come to expect it from him. Often, unable to resist, routine calls turned into a comedic opportunity, if he had an audience with him.

Sarah may have eventually had her doubts that she was talking to a farmer from the West of Ireland, but still she couldn’t discount the possibility that such a backwards person existed – at least not enough to hang up the phone.

If there was ever a place and time where the farmer had his day in the sun, it was in 18th Century America following colonial independence. England was viewed as the land of wisdom and learning while the new republic was seen as culturally deficient and, in comparison, a hinterland.

To remedy this, Thomas Jefferson and other like-minded thinkers promoted the idea of Agrarianism, which turned simplicity and the rural lifestyle into virtues on which the nation was based. Farmers, therefore, were the bearers of this morality and represented the national consciousness. They were, in short, a big deal.

Ask someone in the U.S. today what they think of a farmer and, depending on the place and person, one may either hear something about being the backbone of the country or an image similar to a redneck.

My housemate and girlfriend in Germany had some of her girlfriends over recently, clattering away as girls do. One of them called another girl’s boyfriend “such a farmer.”

My girlfriend, knowing I grew up on a dairy farm, glanced at me from the corner of her eye to see if I knew enough of their language to pick up on the slur. Indeed, “Du Bauer, du” (You farmer, you) is a common insult in Germany.

The majority of my family still farms. I suspect none of them would like being called Podunk or put on a pedestal. They are not backwards (although my father came to modern things such as cell phones much later than everyone else), nor are they superior beings.

Still, finding the right terms can be elusive. They’re not merely businessmen because if they were they would have chosen a much more profitable venture. They’re not old-fashioned because they vote more progressively than most of the community around them.

They’re not relics of the past because they’re too important for the future. They’re no one time has left behind because, simply, cows can’t milk themselves yet.

What is a farmer? Clichés such as “stewards of the land” and “simple, wholesome people” are inadequate, although I’ve heard them used by farmers themselves for a lack of better designations.

Maybe it’s someone who does what they can’t avoid doing because it’s a part of who they are – although that also puts us in the company of serial killers and psychopathic criminals.

Perhaps part of the definition should include being someone who produces very capable children, some of whom return to the farm and some that go into the world and add to it – although we know that farming is more than raising good stock.

Whatever it is, the truth is probably somewhere between hero and hillbilly – and would take a lot of words to get right. Maybe the Germans have it right. Keep it simple: You farmer, you. PD