Today is National Ag Day. I decided to take a different approach to what I normally would blog on a day like today. I decided to tell you a little more about my back story. About the man behind why I farm. This was not an easy post for me to write. It will be 5 years in April, and most days it still feels like yesterday. If anyone should be honored on National Ag Day, it truly is the farmer. This is my tribute to one of them.
My dad was my hero growing up. He was one of the smartest people I knew, on every subject. My mom often jokes that she always hated how he was always right about everything. He gave back to the community in many ways, from helping build our church, to coming in with his DeWalt drills and saws for “Winterim” during school to donating time to dig basements for Habitat for Humanity.
He had lots of jobs as I grew up. He owned his own construction business, drove semi-mostly hauling for Cargill, taught classes, was a manager of an excavating business and a well drilling business, and he farmed.
He grew up on the same farm I did. The farm my great-great grandpa started over 100 a years ago, with the main crop being potatoes, then dairy. My grandpa even built coffins and shod horses.
He encouraged me to go after my dreams when I went 5 hours away to college, but always knew I was rooted in the farm. His words to my mom when I left, were “She’ll be back in a year.” Although I don’t think he could have ever imagined the reason why.
My dad had strength to him; strength I can’t even begin to explain. He survived the farm crisis of the 80’s, watching the bank take pregnant sows to slaughter. He survived cancer three times, when he didn’t think he’d make it to my high school graduation. He survived losing parents and a sibling. He survived falls from equipment, a coma, and more.
Through all of it, he always had a smile on his face. In the words of a friend, not just a smile, but the world’s largest grin. He had a laugh you could hear from miles away. I often remember the time my brother fell asleep in church, hit his head on the pew in front of him as he dozed off, and my dad’s shoulders shaking with silent laughter. After all, if he started laughing, everyone in church would hear it.
His outlook on life, was one I think that many of us wish we could have. It is an outlook that I try to embody in my own life. One of faith, always looking for the best in everyone, and that hard work and a handshake say more about your character than you think. During the tough times, you would often hear him say, “This too shall pass…”
He was patient, getting all of us kids through our tough math courses, even proving our teacher’s wrong on a problem or two. You’d put a baby kitten, lamb, chick or pig in his arms, and he’d melt like butter, all 6’2 of him. He loved camping and exploring new places, and I am so grateful for that love he placed in me. I am a wanderer in the sense of travel, but just like him, my roots are at home with the farm, and I always come back to it.
And I did come back to the farm. It wasn’t how I wanted it to be, and I think I swore it was the last thing I wanted to do in my life, but in 2009, life changed drastically.
I remember trying to call both of my parent’s cell phones, as they had traveled up about an hour away from my college, where my Dad was working to complete a job for a friend. I figured I would come down to visit. In fact, he had come out of retirement just to help them out with their new cabin business venture. So my parent’s had taken the motorhome up while he was going to be doing to excavating.
I kept getting no answer, so I left a message for each of them. Finally, my mom called me back.
I remember asking what hospital he was in, I’d go. I can rush there right away. Class didn’t matter. I didn’t care if it was finals. I remember her saying, “No, he, he didn’t make it.”
Just like that, at age 19, my life changed in the blink of a moment.
My dad died due to a trench cave in on April 29, 2009.
I switched schools and moved home, in with my mom. I drove an hour to school every day and worked two jobs to help pay for college. I helped with chores until we made the decision to sell our beef cattle off. Next came the land.
I sat down with my then fiancé, and told him, I want us to farm. His dad farmed already, maybe we can work something out with him to make it work.
I didn’t want some stranger operating our land. I didn’t want to give up what my dad, grandpa, great-grandpa and great-great grandpa had worked so determinedly to keep and build. I couldn’t fathom not farming. It wouldn’t come without its struggles, and it wouldn’t always be easy, but I wasn’t ready to give up the connection I felt with our farm, the land and my father.
When something can be taken from you, you start to realize how important it is to you. I started to realize that my future was the farm. I had grown up here. My father taught me how to care for sheep, hogs and cattle here. He had taught me how to drive tractor, operate our feedlot, pay attention to the markets, and drive the skidloader. He had taught me what it meant to care for something bigger than what you are in life, that it was an intricate and small role we play some days with Mother Nature. He had taught me the meaning of a day’s hard work. He taught me to treasure the time I spend with family, and more than once pulled the “family obligation” card on me. I learned to appreciate the small wonders like a baby kitten, hoar-frost on the trees, the amount of calories you can burn stacking wood, and making your own maple syrup.
He taught me early on the importance of life and death, and the value of that life.
I knew I had to farm. In the blink of an eye, my path in life changed. Is it how I wanted it to change? No. There are many days I yell at Dad for leaving because I need him to answer a question for me or fix something, or say he would know what to do. His passion for the farm, is one he instilled in me from little on, whether it was getting up to help feed baby calves before school or stacking hay with him in the summer.
He planted the seed for farming in me; I was the one who had to give it roots.
I think my dad knew something when he told my mom that I’d be back in a year from college. Even before I knew it, he knew I was meant to be farming. Most days, I just hope he is proud of me.