Online sodbusting on the popular website Farmville takes persistence, neighborliness and capital, as Richard Oswald discovers.

[imgcontainer left] [img:farmvillesite320.jpg] [source]Farmville, via Richard Oswald[/source] Online sodbusting on the popular website Farmville takes persistence, neighborliness and capital, as Richard Oswald discovers. [/imgcontainer]

There’s a joke about the old farmer with a beautiful young wife.

When word got around that the wife was in a family-way, some of his neighbors were quite amazed. (This was a REALLY old farmer.) Hoping for advice on his own love life, one local finally got the courage to ask the old farmer for his secret.

After a moment’s reflection the old farmer replied, “Good neighbors.”

Don’t get me wrong, they aren’t THAT helpful in Farmville, but there are some great neighbors online. My Facebook Farmville friends will even go so far as to spend their own dough to tend my crops — neighbors like Joyce, who just stopped by to fertilize my wheat. Joyce spent 25 of her own Farmville “gold coins” to help me out.

Boy, was I embarrassed when I logged onto Farmville and found that Joyce had been there. (In Farmville just like in real life, you just never know when a neighbor might drop by.)

You see, in Farmville if you don’t visit your crops, they die. I forgot to tend my Facebook farm for a couple of days. Things were really in a mess. I hoped Joyce hadn’t seen my withered fields of soybeans.  I just hadn’t had time to check on them. I was busy on our real farm harvesting the real crops we sell for real money.

Good neighbors get good neighbors. Helping me paid off for Joyce by raising her experience level. Now she can buy some really good stuff for her farm. That lets her feel just like a real farmer, because in real life, real farmers do the same thing. We work real hard to sell what we grow below wholesale so that we can pay retail plus shipping and handling for everything we buy.

And we do it all on our own time.

Some critics say Farmville is nothing more than an online waste of time, a pointless game where people actually spend their money to “buy” cartoon images of hay, trees, fences, livestock, and even carnival rides for a spread that exists only on the internet.

That’s how Farmville creator Zynga farms the system. Basically they sell an illusion. Access to the Farmville site is free. But if your neighbors are getting too far ahead you can always use your credit card or PayPal to supplement the free virtual gold coins that Zynga gives every player.

The grass is always greener on the other side of Farmville.

Unlike Zynga’s fictional farm markets, in real life I can’t sell what isn’t real even if I max out my credit card. Real farm profits can disappear faster than an Internet connection in rural America. Especially if the farmer (that’s me) isn’t doing his job.

What critics of the online farming game don’t understand is that’s the way real farming is. The cows have to be fed and the crops have to be fertilized. Paydays are sometimes few and far between. If you don’t tend your crops, they die, just like on Facebook, and real farmers spend money all year, sometimes without a year-round income, to keep their livestock and crops alive.

Take 1993 for instance. We had a big flood here in Missouri. All the levees north of us failed. Then all the levees south of us toppled too. Even after giving it the good old Farmville try, our levee eventually crumbled and took all the crops in the river valley.

[imgcontainer] [img:langdon-flooded530.jpg] [source]Richard Oswald[/source] Flooded bottomland in Rock Port, when the Missouri River overflowed its banks in 1993. [/imgcontainer]

Can you imagine Farmville under six feet of water? That’s what happened here. Suddenly Langdon looked more like Fishville.

In ’93 I had been so busy moving livestock, equipment and stored grain ahead of the torrent that I plumb forgot the upland crops—the ones at the top of the hill. So, after the river took the bottomland, my banker called and asked to take a tour of the farm. He had a lot of money riding on me and needed to see what was left.

We checked the upland fields because that was the only place that wasn’t under water. Much to my horror, we found a field of soybeans that had been completely taken by weeds. It looked withered just like the soybeans Joyce found on my Farmville farm.

Except they don’t have weeds in Farmville; you will never see a Monsanto advertisement there. (I guess it’s really not such a bad place after all.)

I really could have used Joyce’s help back then. But real life neighbors seldom spend their hard earned cash on someone else’s crop, especially if they aren’t paying attention.

Sometimes, though, when you need them most, there the real neighbors are. Generally it happens at planting or harvest when illness or a death in the family stops seasonal field work. That’s really important because our cyclic occupations feed our families and all the other people year round.

Volunteers just seem to show up. Farm wives bring food for the noon meal, and machinery pulls in off the road from every direction. The greatest problem on days like these isn’t getting enough help. Generally so many people show up, a few may be asked to leave. Otherwise they get in each other’s way.

I remember one year when a friend died unexpectedly of a heart attack. We were harvesting ten miles away and called to see where the neighbors were gathering. “Don’t come!” we were told, “There’s so many people here we almost had a tractor collision!”

Except for a few BIG operators who think most about their own bottom line, I’ve never met a farmer who regretted the time he spent helping a neighbor. Volunteers give a whole lot more than a few hours of their time. Planting and harvesting equipment we use is expensive to buy, expensive to maintain, and burns gallons of expensive diesel fuel every hour. Being a good neighbor is expensive sometimes, but in real life Farmville, real people are always the bottom line.

Internet farming goes right along with that, because after the work is done I can stop by Farmville and Melissa’s place, while she is out of town, just to chase the raccoons out of her corn. I can give James an apple tree and return the favor of crop fertilization to Joyce by feeding her grapes or chasing the crows away.

[imgcontainer] [img:myfarmville-richard530.jpg] [source]Courtesy Richard Oswald[/source] Richard Oswald takes a break from virtual farming. His horse still prefers real apples and real hay, which as yet can’t be bought with Zynga’s “gold coins.” [/imgcontainer]

Then I get to go back home, pet my horse, and give him a bale of hay.

All it costs is fictional gold and a couple of mouse clicks.  At Farmville chickens cluck, cows moo, and horses whinny… the wheat heads out and the strawberries bloom. And once in a while, if you need it badly enough, good neighbors give you a boost.

Come to think of it, that’s pretty much the way it is around Langdon, too.

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