Nearly a century ago, a family left their home country of Germany and moved to rural Kansas to find their American dream…of sugar beet farming. This family, my family, learned to speak English, farm on new soil, drive cars and adapt to American life on the eve of World Wars where Germans were not the most popular folk. But they did it, and Kansas was their canvas. As kids grew up and farming wasn’t paying them any favors, they moved away from Kansas (and the farm) to more stable jobs out East and in the Northwest. One lone family member remained in Kansas and still resides in Cottonwood Falls.
I was sitting in my high-rise Chicago apartment one day pondering the important things in life: what will I have for dinner, what will I do this weekend, how will I get downtown during rush hour, where do I want to start my career? Being in the magazine industry, you are almost expected to start in New York, but I was not about to have it.
Every few weeks I called my Nanna and made her tell me stories about the farm. One summer we even took a road trip to see the (30 person) town she lived in, the soil she sowed, the one-room house she and her family occupied. A little seed had been planted years ago. I had farm dreams. So when graduation neared and resumes were being sent, I couldn’t ignore the prodding that told me to nurture that seed and see what happens. New York wasn’t going to be the place to do it, not even Chicago would do. Kansas felt right, and soon, it was the only place I could imagine myself.
I phoned up my family and told them I wanted to reinstate the family farm. We had been out of the soil for long enough. We were farmers when we came to this country, and we should never forget what makes us who we are. Most of the phone calls fell silent on the other end. “You want to do what??” I want to learn how to farm. My grandma and her siblings who came from that same German farm were touched that I wanted to follow my ancestor’s journey. The more and more I think about it, the more I can’t see myself anywhere else.
While I don’t have a piece of land (yet), I constantly daydream about what my family must have experienced out here in Kansas. Nanna reassures me, “It’s a very good life. A hard life. But a very good life.” So for now, I’ll keep making her tell me stories of the farm, beg my editors to let me help out on their farms, and edit stories about things I wish I was doing. Fishing anyone?