Lessons in school are planned. They are structured, move at pace and are outlined by the powers that be but there are many things they don’t teach you. And, despite being a straight A student most of my life, some of the most important lessons I’ve learned came from growing up on a farm.
While many of the ‘town kids’ in our community spent their summers at the pool, riding around together on bikes, playing video games or just generally doing anything they could find to occupy their time, I did not. Town was a 10 minute drive – by car, not bicycle – and, while I wasn’t heavily involved in farm work, there was always grass to mow in our large yard, meals to help bring to the field and all the other tasks that don’t get done by themselves when your life revolves around agriculture.
Here are some of the invaluable lessons I have learned:
Don’t name the calf you plan to eat. While this isn’t a personal revelation, more so one I learned through a friend, it’s still a valuable lesson – one I’m sure all 4-H beef club members can relate to.
You will learn to pee outside, in the wind, successfully. Obviously more challenging for girls than for boys but no less important a skill. I’m sure I’m not the only one with a good story about how, at a very young age, their dad tried, without success, to help them with this while in a field checking cattle.
To be persistant, optimistic and never give up. Farming is a gamble, every year, and being negative never does any good. Will Rodgers once said, "The farmer has to be an optimist or he wouldn't still be a farmer." Times will get tough and things aren't always going to go the way you want – weather, machinery and animals just don’t work that way.
The cycle of life. We always had a dog and a few cats around. These weren’t treated as our family members, as so many ‘town’ pets are. They received love and affection – when they let you close enough – and were always provided food and water but, they served a purpose in protecting the yard and keeping wild animals and small pests away. They came and they went and you understood that that’s just what happened in life.
How to make hard decisions and how to deal with the decisions that are made for you. Sometimes, the choice was to go out with friends or stay home and get done those extra chores that never seem to end. Other times the choice could be to put down an animal that couldn't be saved and was clearly in pain. And then, sometimes, those things that were choices are no longer optional. How you deal with these things are the moments that really show your character.
Strength, inside and out. There’s no crying in farming. Roll up those sleeves. Get dirty. Get greasy. And, get going until the job is done.
The real importance of agriculture. Many people not involved in it look down upon the industry, with jokes about hick farmers and those who do not live in the city. But, without agriculture, life as we know it wouldn't be possible. Farmers provide the world with something every person on earth requires – food – and that shouldn’t be taken for granted.
Lastly, don’t corner something that is meaner than you. Momma cows protecting their calves, the big bull or your dad when you came home past curfew – doesn’t really matter what it is, the rule is still the same.
My family's agricultural background has played a huge part in shaping me into the person that I am today. I’m proud to have the privilege to say that I’m a farmer’s daughter and I hope the all of the lessons that I learned on the farm, both big and small, stay with me for the rest of my life.