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Published July 30, 2010, 12:00 AM

Lifelong lessons of hard work

He’s 20 and spends a lot of summer days hoeing. He spent nearly eight hours hoeing the other day, under a hot sun. He’s a college kid, and this summer, he’s working at a CSA — one of about 65 Community Supported Agriculture farms in Minnesota.

By: Sam Cook, Duluth News Tribune

He’s 20 and spends a lot of summer days hoeing. He spent nearly eight hours hoeing the other day, under a hot sun. He’s a college kid, and this summer, he’s working at a CSA — one of about 65 Community Supported Agriculture farms in Minnesota.

He showed us around the three gardens the other day. Showed us row upon row of potatoes, green beans, peas, beets, eggplant, dill, lettuce, onions, squash and more. He showed us how he and his fellow gardeners weed and water and harvest. He showed us the potato beetles that are attacking the potato plants.

He’s learning a lot about organic gardening, about CSAs, about local economies. But I suspect he’s learning just as much about which muscles it takes to run a hoe and how much 50-power sunscreen costs.

He doesn’t complain. This is what he signed on to do.

Most of us had a summer job like that somewhere along the way. We cut wood or laid sod or dug holes for backwoods biffies. We put up and took down party tents. We shouldered shingles or shored up railroad crossings.

A lot of these temporary jobs were done for one reason. We needed the money.

You bet it was hard work. Hoeing and hefting and toting build abs in ways that the infomercials never talk about, but the result is the same. Yes, it’s usually hot, but you just learn to deal with it. And you learn to truly appreciate shade.

“That’s where we eat our lunches, under those trees,” says the one who hoes and harvests. “And where we take our naps after lunch.”

And you flash back to a day when you walked a sun-beaten hayfield tossing bales onto a hay rack, and found paradise in the shade of a grove where the farm women served burgers and potato salad and cherry pie and watermelon.

I don’t know if those jobs build character, but they certainly make you appreciate the simple things.

Lifting and throwing and shoving and slinging do teach you a couple of things. One is that you’re a lot tougher than you thought you were. Sure, the shovel handle wore your palms raw the first week, but by the end of the summer your hands were thick and calloused and tough. You took pride in how many rows you hoed in a day, how many lawns you mowed, how many loads of cow manure you pitched onto the manure spreader.

You knew the satisfaction that came from hard work and how good you felt looking out over what you’d done at the end of the day.

The second, and often undervalued, part of a summer job is that you learn pretty quickly what kind of boss you’d want to be if you ever got the chance. If you’re lucky, you work for someone who teaches you not only how to do your job, but maybe how to live your life. If you’re unlucky, you get to see firsthand the traits that no supervisor should possess. Both kinds of experiences can serve you well later in life.

Go to it, you diggers and pilers and stackers and haulers. Someone has to do it.

And most of us have.

SAM COOK is a Duluth News Tribune columnist and outdoors writer. Reach him at (218) 723-5332 or scook@duluthnews.com. Follow him on Twitter at “samcookoutdoors.”

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