A co-worker recently told me that 69 million people play Farmville, Facebook’s on-line farming game. 69 million people!? As one who generally takes an Amish-like view of technology (is this really good for the community?), I am skeptical of the benefits, or even the fun, of Farmville. So I did what any self-respecting food grower would do: I asked my husband to play it. And I asked all the college students I know about it.
My questions probably sounded crazy – how is growing food portrayed on Farmville? Are there organic Farmville farms? Do Farmville animals get slaughtered for meat? What is the attraction? Why are so many people involved? I wanted to know if Farmville cheapens what I do as a ministry and a living. Susan, our sustainable agriculture intern from UNC, could earn extra credit in her class by trying to practice sustainable agriculture on her Farmville farm. Not easy to do, apparently. When I asked her if Farmville makes growing food seem ridiculously easier than it really is, her answer was “absolutely!” (This is from a girl who just spent 3 hours turning compost and hoeing weeds.)
On Farmville, strawberries are planted, grow, and are ready to harvest in about 4 hours. Wouldn’t my strawberry farmer friends love that! Growing organically or no-till are not Farmville options. Monoculture farming is encouraged. (Did the big agribusiness companies have a hand in making this game?) Farmville animals seem more like pets than the food source they are outside of cyberspace. Exotic farm animals on Farmville aren’t feather-footed chickens or heritage breed cattle; they are elephants and pandas. These are all the things about Farmville that make me shake my head in despair.
It seems, however, that Farmville does have some redeeming qualities. My husband states that one of the attractions of Farmville is that you grow your farm best with the help of your friends. Well, strawberries may not really go from seedling to harvest in 4 hours, but at least that is accurate! Working together to grow food accomplishes more in reality as well as in cyberspace. We call it community gardening. Still, does growing fake food on a computer build real community? Is it good for you?
Another attraction my college-age friends mentioned was that it is “just cool to grow something”. Yes, it is. That’s a big reason why I do what I do. God created humans with a desire to nurture and sustain life. Planting and tending crops is one of the ways we can do that. But have we moved so far away from nature and so close to technology that growing crops on a computer screen can truly fulfill this desire? I hope not.
For anyone who seeks a real Farmville experience, get away from your screen and join a community garden. Learn to grow something good to eat. Talk to a friend while you plant, tend, water, and pick. Get connected with a real piece of land and your neighbors. Your strawberries won’t be ready to harvest in four hours, but the relationships you develop will last much longer than a blip on the computer screen. As Deuteronomy 16:15 tells us, “The Lord will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your joy will be complete.”
The sun on our backs, the feel of soil in our hands, the sweat on our brows – clicking a mouse can’t compare.