Have you ever had the wish, however fleeting, to drop out of your busy city job and escape to the countryside? Go where you can pick up a pitchfork, shove on some wellies, and start your hardworking country life away from the big smoke. This quiet life is one I can vicariously live through Stardew Valley, a game where the main character quits their office job to take over the family farm.
If Stardew Valley is to be believed, a bountiful harvest is only a few clicks away. Wake up early, water your crops, pick any that are ripe, and throw them into a box to be sold in town, and when you’re done for the day you might even have time to talk to that cute doctor with the glasses you’ve had your eye on. Sounds like the easy life, on screen anyway, but what does it actually take to be farmer?
To find out if I could ever make my Stardew dream a reality, I reached out to Timothy Danley, a Californian farmer and Stardew Valley fan, to ask how close the farming life in Stardew Valley is to that of a real farmer. Unlike the character in the game, Danley didn’t leave a job in the city to become a farmer, he’s worked on his family farm for years. “As cliche as it sounds my family has been farming here for generations,” Danley tells me, “mostly rice and varying row crops, only recently in my lifetime have we started planting trees.”
Like Danley’s farmstead, the farm in Stardew Valley has been passed down through generations. At the request of a deceased grandfather, the main character decides to leave their office job, departing the city to start their new farming life. It’s a romantic idea, one that I’m very partial to, but is this a realistic ambition? Can someone just uproot themselves like this? “No,” Danley says. “Farming is very expensive. Even if you inherited the land, you’ll be paying property taxes and most likely an estate tax as well. If you’re buying the land, bare ground is going for nearly $10k an acre in my area.
Farming is very expensive… bare ground is going for nearly $10k an acre
“Even if you have the money for the land and equipment, there’s a ton of knowledge – most of which is informal and learned on the go through years of experience – needed to farm properly. There’s a reason most farms are generational. I remember a Reddit thread years ago cautioning people against quitting everything and moving to NYC to strike it big. The same thing goes for farming.”
Unfortunately, I don’t come from a farming family or have $10k in my back pocket so my dreams of a farming life have been dashed. But that’s not to say Stardew Valley has it all wrong. “The small town simple life correlates perfectly with Stardew,” Danley says. “Waking up where I work, knowing everyone in town, working all day, and seeing the fruits of my labour immediately – I love all of these things about the game and my own personal life. One facet is making your own pickles and alcohol. My wife and I are very much into making our own food by catching fish in the river, pickling and canning fruits and veggies – being self sufficient is a very liberating feeling.”
This feeling is at the heart of Stardew Valley and is part of why so many players fall in love with it. It captures the friendly small town life and combines it with the gratification that comes with growing and harvesting.
Romancing one of the community cuties from Pelican Town is a prominent feature in Stardew Valley, and one Danley hasn’t ignored. “I actually roleplay different farms for different romance options,” he says. “I’m bringing The Witcher to Stardew by playing as a white-haired swordsman on the wilderness farm who’s very interested in Abigail. I always seem to find my way back to Leah though. I seem to have a thing for redheads who like wine and nature both in game and real life.”
You can plant your beets on Monday and they’ll be fully grown and ready to harvest by Thursday. That’s not so much the case with real farming, though, as crops don’t grow in days, but months. “In spring you’ll likely find us working up the ground and planting, summer is mostly spent irrigating and handling pests, autumn is our busiest time of the year since that’s when we start harvest, and winter is when we usually have plenty of time off. But we also catch up on maintenance and repair of our equipment in winter as well.”
Danley’s farm stretches to 1800 acres total, which he plants with almonds, rice, and row crops, like corn, sunflowers, and cotton. To get a sense of the scale, 1800 acres works out to about the size of around 900 football pitches. That’s a lot of land, all of which needs constant maintenance: “Crows, turkeys, and coyotes all peck or chew holes in our irrigation system, while squirrels eat our almonds and moles and wild pigs tear up our fields.” This is one area Danley wishes live were more like Stardew Valley: “If I could solve my pest problems with a scarecrow I’d love it.”
You might be wondering when Danley finds the time to play Stardew Valley between farming 1800 acres, pickling vegetables, and dealing with pesky coyotes. It’s not like he can just eat a blueberry and recover 45 energy. Well, it turns out tractor technology has far surpassed what I had imagined.
“The majority of our tractors for ground work use GPS technology to drive themselves in a straight line set by the operator, so without something to do such as reading, listening to the radio or podcasts, or even playing the Switch you’ll go crazy pretty quickly. Breath of the Wild came out in the middle of cotton planting season, so I beat the entire first half of that game while planting 200 acres of seed.”
Being self sufficient is a very liberating feeling
If there’s one feature Danley could add to Stardew Valley it’d be tractors. “I’d love for the tractor mod on PC to be a late game vanilla purchase,” he tells me, “or even to add equipment you can hook up to your horse such as plows and seeders to speed up planting and harvesting.”
It’s currently autumn at Danley’s farm and that means the farming year is drawing to an end. It’s the harvesting season, the time where his efforts earlier in the year bear fruit, when all that hardwork and patience finally pays off. “There’s nothing quite like it,” Danley says, “you know that smell of fresh autumn rain on trees that are losing their leaves while sipping a mug of tea or coffee with just a dash of cinnamon in it? Imagine that feeling coupled with just having spent the past ten weeks of your life sprinting for a finish line and finally crossing it.”
The feeling of autumn brings both real farming and Stardew’s farming together. It’s a game that manages to evoke feelings of a day’s hard work and community living in a small town – autumn is the season that reflects this most for Danley. “Nothing else comes close: the music, the orange leaves, and fields of pumpkins,” he says. “The feeling that you’ve finished another year and are prepared for the long winter ahead. There’s nothing quite like it.”