As John Bytheway listened to general conferences of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints over the years, he noticed a pattern: LDS Church leaders liked to tell stories that illustrate lessons they learned while working on a farm.
It occurred to Bytheway that some of the most enduring lessons about life can be learned as a person labors on a farm.
He researched the topic and what he found became a talk on CD called, "Farm Wisdom for City Folks" (Deseret Book, $14.99). In the talk, the best-selling author, favorite speaker and part-time instructor at Brigham Young University discusses how some of the best teachings, stories, and examples we hear in the church come from those whose work ethic was forged in the rigors of farm life.
In an interview with Mormon Times, Bythway shares thoughts and insights into this unique topic.
MT: You have produced several talks on CD for Deseret Book over the years. What is it about this talk that really sets it apart from the others?
JB: “The topic ‘Farm Wisdom’ is not a gospel doctrine or scriptural topic, although I found considerable scriptural support for the lessons learned on the farm. It’s also a timely subject, since we’re struggling with issues of entitlement and work ethic in our world right now.”
MT: How did you come up with the W-H-E-A-T acronym?
JB: “I looked for common threads or principles in my research, and it looked to me like the wisdom gleaned from the farm fit nicely into five groups — and by an amazing coincidence, (wink, wink), they just happened to spell WHEAT (I had to force it a little). So on the CD, ‘W’ stands for 'Work Ethic,' ‘H’ is for 'Law of the Harvest,' ‘E’ is for the 'Everyday nature of farm work,' ‘A’ is for 'Animals and Life,' and ‘T’ is for 'Thrift and Self-Reliance'.”
MT: Considering your many travels and experiences, tell us about the most memorable agricultural/farm moment from your life?
JB: “My own backyard, and my mom and dad’s backyard, is where I learned about tomatoes and weeds and daily maintenance. But I have to say that it was working with my grandpa, who grew up on a farm in Mountain Home, Idaho, that had the most influence. Witnessing his work ethic and hearing his stories gave me an appreciation for the farm’s best lessons.”
MT: How many general conference talks did you find that contained references to "farm" stories?
JB: “I couldn’t tell you. I just searched under 'raised on a farm' and found dozens. Usually it was just a short remark about learning a strong work ethic, but sometimes a classic story would follow.”
MT: What was the favorite lesson you learned while preparing this material?
JB: “I think it would have to be the difference between the farm and the city. In the city, we work until quitting time. On the farm, we work until the job is finished. In the city, if something needs to be done, we can say, 'I’m on break.' On the farm, if there’s a hole in the fence, it must be fixed now, before all the sheep escape. Today, kids think that the reason for summer vacation is a vacation from school. The reason we have summer vacation, I tell them, goes back to when kids had to go home to plant and grow and weed and harvest. School was the vacation from a summer full of farm work!
“I was also deeply impressed by the true story of the blind boy who grew on a farm. His parents made him weed, and feed the cows, and do everything his siblings had to do. Because of that expectation, he became very successful as a blind wrestler and a lawyer. None of that would have happened had his parents not taught him to work even though he couldn’t see.”
MT: What is the redeeming value of "Farm wisdom?" What do you hope people who hear this talk will take away from it?
JB: “While I was researching and preparing this presentation, the thing I got from it was, ‘I need to teach my children to work, and to enjoy the satisfaction that comes from a job well done.’ It was also surprising for me to see how frequently ‘idleness’ was condemned in the scriptures, and I think we’re getting away from a work ethic into an entertainment or play ethic. Additionally, I think parents will see how incorporating farm wisdom into what they teach their children will prepare them for missions and the real work that raising a family requires.”
For more on "Farm Wisdom for City Folks," visit Deseretbook.com.
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