RODALE NEWS, PINE GROVE, PA—Sunday is supposed to be the day of rest, but for a farmer, there's always work to be done. Yesterday, for instance, before the clock even struck noon, I had already collected the wool from a small flock of sheep and a trio of angora rabbits; hunted truffles with the help of my pigs; harvested plums, cherries, figs, lemons, bananas, and apples from the orchard; gathered eggs from the clucking farm chickens; and managed to milk chocolate milk from—get this—a brown cow. I did all this in my pajamas without breaking a sweat, my eyes feverishly fixed to the computer screen as my pointer finger did most of the work, clicking away on the mouse.
I live on a real-life 70-acre farm at the base of the Appalachian Mountains in Pennsylvania, a beautiful plot of land that has been in my family for four generations. But somehow I've been sucked into virtual farming, as an addict of Facebook's FarmVille game. It's a very basic application that allows me to plant anything, from bananas and blueberries to artichokes and squash, in complete disregard for real-life concerns like climate, soil type, or growing season. I can invite Facebook friends to farm alongside me, people who wouldn't put hoe to dirt on my real farm even if I paid them. Online, we often share gifts like fruit trees or ducks to help each other expand our farms. In FarmVille, there's never any bad weather, pesky bugs, or plant diseases, or any need to plan crop rotations. No, it's not very realistic. But as I compare what's on my computer screen with what I see through my window, I realize that FarmVille's simplicity is what makes it such a great escape. FarmVille is a fun way to reconnect with old friends, and make new ones, and although it's virtual, it's cool that farming is what's sparking people's interest and bringing us all together.