In the shade of the old sycamore tree that had shaded many a picnic, work day, and holiday, we all sat. Each of us had his or her own job to do in the line that we formed along both sides of a hand-made bench. It was a cool afternoon in early June. The birds were starting their evening song as the breeze seemed to chase away the hot sun. The 200 ears of freshly picked corn lay stacked in bright yellow vegetable lugs. The empty cobs that had already been stripped of their golden glory lay piled beside the tree waiting to be fed to the livestock. The assembly line that ran between the two piles consisted of three generations. Grandpa chopped the ends of each ear of corn and stacked it into a pan. His wife and their four granddaughters were shucking and silking each ear, but not fast enough to keep up. The girls' mother stood close by ready to cream each ear that they passed to her table. Stories and laughter ran between the workers as fast as ears of corn could be processed. An onlooker might have seen a group of people working after a long morning's toil. But, to the members of the little party, these moments of shared labor were priceless.
Knowing that I want to continue farming, I've had many questions to answer. People are always asking me things like, “Why do you want to work hard all of your life for little wealth?” I have really been thinking about this recently, and I've realized one of the main reasons “Why” farming is something I wish to pursue.
My answer, simply put, is this: family involvement.
Farming, unlike almost any other occupation, allows multi-generational involvement. The scene described above was one from our farm not too long ago. Just as in that example, I have been able to work along-side my father, mother, all four of my grandparents, and many other family members. The knowledge and understanding that has come from this ability has an immeasurable impact in my life.
From this multi-generational involvement with my family, I've learned not only concrete skills, but I've gained a love to work and a love to learn. Both of my grandmothers are and always have been very hard workers even in the midst of difficult situations. Listening to their stories has helped me gain perspective on many things. After high-school, my grandfather started seriously studying farming and management techniques for the modern dairy. Even today he studies herd improvement for his herd of registered Black Angus. He continues to impress upon me the importance of learning.
Most of all, I've learned that not all “wealth” comes in the form of money or things. I consider myself, along with most other farmers, to be very wealthy in things that really matter...Things like love and wisdom passed from generation to generation. The “togetherness” that farming encourages creates not only a well grounded, firm understanding of many things, but also a sense of inter-dependence on one another as a family. Many farmers contain a wealth of useful information and many stories. Listening to older and wiser farmers has allowed me not only to learn through my own mistakes, but also to avoid the mistakes of those who have come before me. Being a farmer isn't about living in the middle of nowhere with a huge garden and a bunch of animals that run all over your property. Farming is about hard work, long days, and strong family ties. That is the heart of farming.