Monday, October 4, 2010

Why I love the land

My parents till the land, growing life and food and a living. So did my grandparents. So did my great-grandparents. So did my great-great grandparents. Ancestors as far back as I presently know were largely all farmers. They likely farmed in the Fatherland, Germany, and in Indiana, where my great-great-great-grandfather, John Herrold, was born in 1831. My ancestors, cut open the great endless sod of Nebraska, literally living in homes made of the earth and sod. And they have farmed the hills and bottoms of old Missouri. Generations have grown and been grown from the land.

I am, at present, not a farmer. I'm always a country boy, and I farm with varying skill on weekends at home. But my beloved farm is a part of me. It's pull is strong.

I can close my eyes and see its landscapes. I guess I don't even have to close my eyes, I can just stare in the middle distance, closer than the horizon but farther away than just in front of my face. They are the silhouettes and panoramas and vistas of my home. I can see the farms, the corridors of trees at the edge of fields, the waving crops or cold dirt in all seasons and weather. The contoured hayfields of the East Farm, the sharper hills around the ancient cemetery on the Home Farm, the ever-changing wall of trees fronting the Forty, as seen from my grandparents' picture window. I've studied them for hours while hunting and driving tractors.

I am, as you can probably see, quite proud of my home. In an era when people have never been more distanced from their food and the land and things that are natural and real, I get to see, touch, taste, live that reality.

The rural life surely has its faults. People who get an education usually leave the farm, seeking better opportunities as the industry continues to face assaults on multiple fronts. Rural North Missouri is the Sahara when it comes to unmarried women over 18 and under 30. The roads are awful.

And, simply, farm life can be hard. It's part of why I'm giving this writing thing a try. You work long hours. You work in the elements. For the most part, you don't get rich. You go out on cold nights when a heifer is having a calf, and she has no idea what's going on, and it's snowing. You pull calves, deal with death and bankers, and are subject to prices and weather. Rains in Brazil and Russia can dramatically affect your livelihood. This powerlessness despite such effort keep a person humble. It shows a person how dependent we are all on God.

But it teaches lessons and values. You have to do your best, really strive to do your best, then let God handle the rest. This simple lesson of striving and faith is one I'm still working to get in my head and put into practice.

It's taught me the folly of materialism, the value of using the talents God gave you, that no one person is born better or more entitled than another. Live simply, enjoy the wonder of the natural world. I'd rather see the Grand Canyon than some ancient cathedral in Europe. God's own monuments top anything built by man.

I know people who seem to be embarrassed or ashamed if they come from working class or small-town backgrounds. It's rapidly becoming one of the few things that can rankle my cool demeanor. (If you know me, you see a bit of sarcasm in that last line.)

I have to say here, because it may help explain things, that I am crazy proud of my parents. They lost their farm and their livelihood once, but they kept digging, they bought new farms, they made sure their kids could grow up on the farm and appreciate the simple joys and lessons of farm life.

I remember in my freshman year of high school, I joined the FFA, like pretty much all kids worth anything did in school. The real kids played basketball and were in the FFA. We learned some key skills that year, such as tying a tie. (Comes in handy when you meet the President.)

We also had to memorize the FFA Creed. I'm surprised how much of it I remember. It was written by E.M. Tiffany in 1930, a pretty darn scary time to be a farmer. It was revised at the end of the 80s, like much of the FFA organization (during this time it was changed from the "Future Farmers of America" to the "National FFA Organization") to reflect "the changing nature of agriculture." The phrases "farm" and "farming" were changed to "agriculture" and "agricultural pursuits." Farming as a way of life seemed to be collapsing in the 1980s. Farmers were protesting at USDA offices in Chillicothe, Mo., and banks were failing in rural areas like it was the Depression. Throughout the Midwest, horror stories emerged, tales of farmers losing everything, no longer able to provide, going crazy, killing bankers and themselves. Meanwhile, the President joked that he wished he could import farmers.

But the creed kept one farm reference. And farming survived the 1980s, as it has all other crises and challenges. Tiffany's words still ring true, 80 years later, saying what I struggle to: "I believe that to live and work on a good farm... is pleasant as well as challenging; for I know the joys and discomforts of agricultural life and hold and inborn fondness for those associations which, even in hours of discouragement, I cannot deny... I believe that American agriculture can and will hold true to the best traditions of our national life[.]"

I have, simply, a link with and a love of and a longing for the land, my land, and the natural world, one that is difficult for me to explain. Writing this gave me ferocious writer's block, trying to give words to how I feel about my family's spread of the world in Daviess County. But when it comes to the land and the farm's way of life, I just keep thinking, This is who I am. And I love it.

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