Why do I farm? It’s a question that, frankly, I ask myself at least a couple of times a year, if not more. With long hours, low pay, and essentially no career advancement opportunities, it is probably fair to ask why anyone would choose to farm? Some days, the aches are so deep that I can feel them sap my very life from me, cutting short my existence, each bead of sweat a small piece of me gone forever.
As painful as the physical aches are, it is the heartaches that are worse. That nagging question in the back of my mind asking, did I do enough? Could I have saved that chicken or is it my fault that the tomato crop was decimated by blight? Will I have to lay someone off for the season? Have I let them and their family down? What if it is my fault if we lose the family farm, and what if there is nothing left to show for so much effort and pain? These insecurities are not mine to bear alone. So much responsibility weighs on the shoulders of every farmer and farm family. Sometimes we cannot sleep, even when sleep is what we crave most, tortured in the dark hours of the night by forces we cannot control or even navigate through most of the time.
We fight through the season until autumn, hanging on with the remaining leaves that cling precariously to the boughs of the trees in the wind. Then, rest comes for our tired bodies and souls, just as we think that we cannot possibly get up in the dark one more morning. We don’t stop working, though. We know that we have done all that we can do for the current season. There is nothing left to worry about, except to finish the job we started nine months earlier. And so, we rest more, healing our tired bodies and souls. Then one day while walking through our fields in February, we feel hope again. Hope is the fuel of the family farm. It transcends darkness and despair, giving purpose to our actions. Purpose is what gives meaning.
I walk the fields, alone right now. It is quiet, and the solace is comforting. I see the summer that lies ahead. Food will fill the fields, and my sweat, my aches, and my hopes will help nourish the plants that will sustain others. My grandchildren will work beside me in the summer sun, bonds strengthening across the gulf of generations. For a moment, I will glimpse the future, a future of hope, hope that they can and will remain on the land when I am gone. Hope that when I am gone, they will experience their grandfather in the contour of the land and know him through the food that they eat. For now, we walk on the same soil, breath the same air, and share the same food. In the present, I look into the eyes of the future. My purpose becomes clear. Why do I farm? I farm to invest in the future for my grandchildren, and in some small way, to leave a legacy.