In my work travels I meet some interesting people. Not long ago, I met someone who was telling me about a guy she knew, and said, ” he has a real job. I mean, he works in town.”
While I think I knew what she meant, it gave me a chance to consider all that farmers do in the quest to be considered the laborers behind a “real job.”
It’s been said that, “to plant a seed is to have hope.” Farmers hope a lot with their entire livelihoods every year.
People who gamble in Las Vegas seem like rookies compared to what farmers gamble every year. They also plant, care for, and harvest their crop with all the long hours involved, no matter what the weather the conditions, because it needs to be done.
They fight off insects, fungus and political snakes. They bale in 90-plus degree heat and know the joy of closing the door on the hay mow at 11 p.m. when the last of the hay has been stacked for the day, anticipating a shower and supper when they get in the house.
They watch the rain pour down for days and weeks during planting or harvest some years, feeling the pressure if he/she can’t get in the fields to get the crop in or out.
Farmers care for those who can’t care for themselves. There is calving, lambing and farrowing to oversee, being up in the middle of the night, and reaching in and pulling babies to help mothers birth their young. (That still gives me the willies.)
They monitor animal health – sometimes using feeding tubes and syringes – and they feed and bed them, no matter what the weather, because like us, the animals need to eat and stay warm. Cleaning up after them is like motherhood on a very macho, machine-driven fertilizer plan.
And let’s say that scraping out and pressure washing the hog house isn’t something that would go down in the annals of farm history as a wimpy job. No one wants that job.
Sometimes they watch their animals die, frustrated that there is nothing more they can do to help them, and putting them out of their misery is, well, always hard.
They teach their children how to work with livestock and the dangers involved. They climb silos to check silage and feed the cows – a task that will either kill a farmer or keep him/her living a good long life because of such intense regular cardiovascular exercise.
Farming is a “take what you get” kind of mindset when it comes to commodity prices.
Yet, they still make farm and machinery payments with those commodity prices and adjust the rest of their lives around it; they buy seed and livestock in “bad years,” because that’s just what they know; they play the marketing game, learning how to be strategists.
They have to think about rain and droughts in South America now, as if it’s not enough to worry about that happening to their own crops just down the road.
A scary phrase is “The cash rent is due next week.” And even more scary to think about is cash rent during low commodity price years. And yet another dreadful thought is building and tearing out fences. Enough said about that.
Farmers learn early on in the lean years that they need to repair things by themselves, because there isn’t always money to let someone else do that for you while you get something else done.
They learn to design almost anything that is needed on the farm, so welding and carpentry become important trade skills.
They show their children how to operate and work on tractors, swathers, balers, grinders, combines, planters, manure spreaders and belly mowers; how to build and maintain a hay rack, and pass on the dangers of an open and running power takeoff shaft.
Farmers teach their children to respect the land and all it gives back to us and to care for it. They come to believe in the miracle of birth, and in the miracle of seeds that sprout and give us food and a living, to appreciate the sound of a tractor running smoothly, or the smell of freshly cut hay, to know the joy of appreciating the simple things in life, because it’s what God meant for us to know and enjoy – that a job isn’t finished until it’s finished, whether a 10:30 p.m. supper is involved or not.
Above all, farmers understand that their children are the most important living things they will raise on their farms.
Farming is not for weenies or the weak of heart. Farmers have a lot of heart. They pass on the satisfaction of having dirt under their fingernails and grease that won’t come off of their hands because they’ve accomplished a good day’s work.
I’m sometimes amazed that they will eat finger food, based on the fact that their hands often look like they’re still out greasing the whatever-it-is they happen to be working on at the time.
Caring for the land and the creatures that inhabit it, farming and feeding the world is a real job, because it’s a responsibility that came straight from God.
Who else is going to do it?
Schwaller is a Farm News correspondent from Milford. Reach her by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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