It’s that time of year again when people reflect on why they are truly thankful. Farmers are no exception. OK, I know many of you are thinking, “another article on farmers.” What can I say, I have a soft spot in my heart for them, once farming is in your blood, it is there for a lifetime. Besides, I do like to eat and they do feed us all.
During spring planting and fall harvest they literally live in the fields. When it’s a family operation, like the Hacker family who farms my ground, it becomes a well-oiled harvesting operation. Mark runs the combine, his wife Monica drives the grain cart alongside so he can dump on the go, his father Ron and his nephew Chris haul the grain in the semi and his mother Ruth brings lunch and dinner to them in the fields and is the “gopher” for anything else that needs done. It is nothing for them to put in 16-hour-plus days, day after day. Their “break” consists of a quick shower and a couple hours of shut eye before they are back at it. So it goes for many farmers across the country.
It is the most important game farmers will ever play; they try to plant the best seed type for their ground, choose the best fertilizer, gamble when to plant, when to harvest. In the end it is God and Mother Nature who decide when the harvest will be and how fruitful it will be. A good year or a bad year could make or break them. So, on top of their thankful list is a bountiful harvest. Some years they are thankful for just a harvest.
Secondly, on every farmer’s list of things to be thankful for is, as much as they love what they do, a couple months when there is no more planting, fitting the ground, spraying or harvesting. They actually get to have a “normal” life, whatever that is. Unlike other 9 to 5 jobs where people go home and forget their work until the next day, farming is always on a farmer’s mind and pretty much dictates their life. With that said, though, during the “off” months farmers do have other passions. So, what do they do for play?
There is always the cleaning up of equipment and doing repairs so they are ready to roll in the spring when next year’s weather breaks, but in the meantime they have various interests. I was surprised at some of the answers I got.
Byron and Linda Kinsinger farm near Cambridge City, Indiana. During harvest she drives the grain truck while Byron is in the fields. When harvest is done they both enjoy their “play” time. Byron is a self-taught musician and has played bass for various bands. He currently plays for Crossroads Country Band. Someone once told him he had to choose between being a farmer or a musician. He chose to do both but does admit that having time for music is much easier during the winter months. Linda plays organ and piano for the church and Byron jokes, “I play the cheatin’ songs and she plays the ones that save them.”
Ron Scruggs from Economy, Indiana likes to take his Quad and ride the hills and mountains of Utah and Idaho. “I’m still close to the land but in a different way. The grandeur there is beyond words.”
Wayne Heebner from Pennsylvania actually gets to spend time with his family and work on different projects for his church. He and his wife Clare try to keep connected with the community during the summer but admit it is hard. “Basically, I am a one-man operation except when my grandson Seth helps. In addition to grain farming, we raise feeder cattle. Even though we don’t milk cows any longer, 12 to 16 hour days are just the norm for us from planting through harvest.”
Many farmers head south for a couple months for a little relaxation. Besides the fact that they want to soak up some warm rays, they know that if they stay home the farmer in them will find something to “tinker” with in the barn. For some, they use this down time to restore old tractors and other farm equipment.
Still, for others that do stick close to home, many fertilizer, irrigation and equipment businesses that they patronize throughout the year put on customer appreciation dinners during the winter months. These are usually pretty good feeds with some nice door prizes. Usually weekly, in any given area, farmers can find one of these, get a good meal and catch up with their neighbors and other farmers in the area.
In my neck of the woods, end of harvest coincides quite nicely with the beginning of deer hunting season. Generally, most farmers are also hunters as the timing is right. Of course, hunting season means deer camps. Sometimes these camps often end up being in a barn or cabin where the farmers gather nights after hunting to eat bowls of chili and swap stories. The only hard part here is distinguishing fact from fiction. Yes, farmers and hunters do tell some colorful tales.
The other night I was privileged to be at one of these gatherings. I heard the story where a farmer’s dog faithfully runs back and forth across the fields following the equipment. The farmer would set a bucket of ice water out for the dog. One evening when folks gathered around he fixed a drink for one of the wives. Not thinking, he just used some of the ice from the bucket. Yuk!
Same farmer, same dog liked to go on the prowl in his pickup for critters. One time the dog jumped off the bed of the pickup and caught a woodchuck. He always had to proudly show his owner what he caught. So, the dog jumped in the cab with his prey. The only problem was that this time he hadn’t quite finished the kill. Can you just imagine the mess in the pickup when this was all said and done! No names on this one, going to try and protect the “innocent.”
Although they do enjoy their free time and whatever they do with it, like no other profession, farmers keep farming close to their heart. Mark’s birthday usually falls smack dab in the middle of corn harvest. I told him this year that it was too bad he never got a chance to celebrate his birthday. He looked at me and, with the biggest smile, told me, “I’m exactly where I want to be and doing exactly what I want to do.”
Perhaps Duane (Barney) Cates of Williamsburg, Indiana said it best when I asked him what he likes to do after harvest. He answered with a big grin, “Anything I want to!”
That pretty much says it all.