In the spirit of avoidance of conflict, most men adhere to a certain level of discretion when speaking on certain matters. Politics, religion, one’s mother and whatever level of virtue she may or may not be in possession of, and (more-so in the preservation of tact and a general feeling of dignity) endowment. For two best friends, however, their taboo subject was farming. In their town, every year, there was an enormous farmer’s market. Even the hermits would show their faces just to see which of these two men had grown the better crop that year. It was the highlight of the season for the townspeople who – no matter to whom they showed patronage – always went home with some of the best produce to be found in the Midwest. These two men, however, for this one day each year broke the lifelong ties of beautiful friendship they shared to hold staunch rivalry with one another.
Eleven months before the day of the market one year, the two farmers co-wrote a letter to the editor of the town newspaper declaring their respectful withdrawal from participation in the coming year’s festivities. Outraged, the townspeople held an emergency meeting in which they demanded that these farmers solicit their crops. In fear of mob violence, the two farmers reluctantly agreed to once again put themselves at odds with one another and be a part of the town’s long-standing tradition. Walking home together, the men broke into an argument over which of them would grow a better crop. Each accused the other of having, in years past, pumped their respective fields with black market fertilizer, poisoned the other’s soil, or left a trail of discarded food into the other’s field for scavengers to find. In the heat of the argument, they both claimed to be able to produce such a fertile harvest that they could single-handedly feed the entire town for the duration of the year. They decided that the only resolution to this ongoing feud was to agree that whoever turned the least profit at the market would admit that he could not – on his own – feed the town on his own and henceforth retire from farming and let the other reign “king farmer” for the rest of his days.
The next day they each set to work. One farmer, the younger, tilled a third more acreage of his land so as to yield a bigger harvest. He planted the usual: corn, soy beans, potatoes, as well as several items he’d never offered at the market before: squash, carrots, pumpkins, watermelon, tomoatoes. He was awake and working in his field for nearly 20 hours every day tilling, planting, irrigating, and fertilizing until he grew ill from exhaustion. At the vehement request of his wife, he finally took a day off to rest. When she left the house to run an errand, he nearly sprinted the half mile between his house and the other farmer’s (the older). Sneaking in a back corner of his friend’s field through a patch of wood, he came upon a sight that gave him quite a surprise. The older farmer’s field was barren and untilled. He squatted low to check for minuscule sprouts of anything green coming up from the dry, cracked soil and found nothing. Baffled, he crept across the field within view of his neighbor’s farmhouse. He saw his friend and rival sitting in a rocking chair on his front porch, reading the newspaper and smoking his pipe. Not knowing what to think of what he had seen, the younger farmer went swiftly back home, hoping his sickness would soon pass.
With a month left until the day of the market, the younger farmer was working as hard as he could to carefully harvest, wash, and meticulously store each and every speck of crop so as to have the best showing when the time would come to face his neighbor. Twice more he had sneaked to the edge of his good friend’s property to find that each plot on the older farmer’s patch of land was just as bare and unable to produce a crop as the one he had found weeks prior. Each time he left more bewildered than the last.
The day of the market came, and the younger farmer brought his enormous crop in its entirety to show the town. Taking up almost an entire city block, the fruits of his labor were a miraculous sight to be held. Pacing around his yeildings, marveling at his out-doing of himself, he made sure to keep a critical eye out to make sure each and every bushel was in perfect form. It was while he was doing this that he noticed the arrival of his estranged friend. He had no truck or tractor, not even a wheelbarrow, only a single folding lawn chair. Directly across the street from where the younger farmer had set his stands up, his opponent popped open his lawn chair, took a book from his jacket pocket, sat down and crossed his legs.
“Moment of truth!” called the older farmer from across the way.
“But you’ve brought nothing! Does this mean you forfeit?!”
The older farmer merely chuckled and began to read, humming to himself.
The two farmers sat in the middle of town staring at one another for twelve straight hours. Not one soul came to the market to see what the farmers had brought. Not one cent was earned. Not one crop was sold.
When the time for closing came, the older farmer stood up, closed his book, folded up his chair and turned to his friend.
“Well, I guess that settles that.”
The younger farmer fumed as the two shared the long walk home together. He was furious at the townspeople for forcing him into competition against his friend, putting him through the worst year of his life, and then not even showing up to view the very thing they had demanded. He was furious at his friend for having what appeared to be a year long vacation and then showing up with not a single kernel to show at the market.
He began to notice, however, something very odd as they passed the homes of the townspeople. Each of them had planted a garden. Some gardens had completely engulfed what had once been a front yard. All of the townspeople were outside in their gardens, hoes in hand, working diligently. When the two farmers strode by, in fact, not one neighbor had taken notice of the farmers’ presence whatsoever.
“What is this? I don’t understand.”
The old farmer laid a concerning hand on the shoulder of his good friend.
“You thought I had done nothing all year, friend, but you were wrong. While you were torturing yourself in the field, yielding your massive and beautiful crop, I was also hard at work. Each week I would take all the seeds I had, divvy them up in compliance with fairness, and drop them in the mailboxes of each and every person in this town. After a few weeks, I noticed that a few had begun to plant the seeds in these gardens that we’re now walking past. With each new week, I saw the gardens expand and the gardeners themselves to be in greater number. Soon they were talking across the fence with one another, swapping advice and tricks they had learned along the way. So, you see, friend. I’ve won.”
“What do you mean? You grew nothing! These people grew their own food while you spent each day on your sun porch!”
“But I’ve fulfilled each stipulation of the agreement. Neither of us turned a profit, so there can be no debate on who sold less. And, as you can see, because of my actions these people have enough food to last themselves the rest of the year and then some. So, friend, I guess the time has come for you to retire.”
The younger farmer began to weep bitterly. He had spent the last year of his life putting his family, body, and sanity through hell and all for the awful price of having to deprive himself of the only thing he’d ever loved.
“Friend, why do you cry?”
“It was all for nothing. The last year of my life has been an utter waste!”
“Oh, but friend, don’t you see? You’ve won as I have won.”
“What do you mean?”
“In the past year we’ve done amazing things. We’ve proven to one another and to ourselves that we are the best you can be at drawing fruit from the land. But that very thing was that which tore us apart. Try as we might, our friendship would always be lacking as long as we had that bitter and evil rivalry with one another. But now, now look around you! These people are no longer in need of two great farmers or even one! In fact, I doubt they’ll need us to be anything now other than very good friends to one another.”