PEOPLE always tell me they envy my life when they learn that I am a rancher.
They say it must be wonderful to live a "simple country life."
Little do they know, the country life is anything but simple.
I have spent my lifetime living and working on my family's commercial ranch, but five years ago, I stopped riding my horse, I stopped hunting and I stopped spending time with the cattle.
Instead, I started working in a professional office. I did a complete 180 in my life, going from cowgirl to a skateboard-riding, vegetarian, young professional.
I wanted to experience a "simple" life in town. You see, I got tired of depending on the weather to dictate my income. I got tired of not having health insurance. I got tired of never having a vacation. I got tired of the heat, the cold, the dust and the mud. I got tired of being the most educated yet the least respected person on the ranch.
I became jealous of my urban friends who had exciting lifestyles, went on exotic vacations and could afford new homes.
In all honesty, I never thought I would ever forego life on the ranch. Living and working in production agriculture had always been my heart and soul and my very reason for being.
After a particularly bad summer and stressful fall, I decided that it was time to make sure ranching was really what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. The only way I could be certain of that, though, was to experience the simple life in town.
Most Americans are three generations removed from farming and ranching. That often means that many of us have forgotten how labor-intensive, emotionally painful and heartbreaking agriculture can be.
Prior to agricultural mechanization, it took most family members, plus hired hands, to ensure the success of a ranch. It truly was life or death: If the chores weren't done and the harvest wasn't put up and sold, you could quickly lose your farm or go hungry.
After agricultural mechanization, though, we could choose between the long and unforgiving hours on the ranch or a nine-to-five career in town; the majority of the public became urban, and farming become romantic.
People began to choose the "better" life in town over the long hours and hard work of the farm.
Buying food at the store went from being a luxury to a routine, and "farm fresh" became a marketing term instead of the norm.
After I spent some time away from the ranch, I realized how lucky I was to have the option to support myself and produce food commercially.
I realized that few people can make the lifestyle choices I can, and many, many yearn for it because, although working in production agriculture isn't always the most glamorous or financially rewarding of career paths — and it certainly isn't "simple" — it is wonderful and incredibly rewarding in a way that means more to those who choose it than financial wealth.
After my five-year "simple life" experience, I returned to the mud, sweat and tears of ranch life and learned a valuable lesson: Ranch life is where I belong.
*Megan Brown is a blogger and sixth-generation rancher who raises Black Angus cattle in northern California. From 4-H as a child to FFA as a teen to receiving her bachelor's degree in agricultural business from California State University-Chico, agriculture has been Brown's lifelong passion. Read more on her website at www.thebeefjar.com, or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.