I can think of no other occupation that is as diversified as farming, nor one that has so many odds stacked against it. There are never two years that are the same, and farming is one big guessing game. A farmer tries to figure out the best seed to plant, the best fertilizer to buy, the best tillage method for his soil and, then the million dollar question of when to plant and when to harvest, to get it right. Long days, long nights, sultry 90-degree days and freezing sub-zero temperatures. It is, perhaps, the hardest job on earth and yet, the most rewarding.
Back in 2013, Beck’s Hybrids introduced the “Why I Farm” movement with the single purpose of honoring the American farmer. Determined not only to tell the story of how hard farmers work, but also “to tell the story of real people and real farms who are guided by faith, dedicated to their families and are passionate about the agriculture industry.”
Some of their stories intrigued me, so much so that I wondered what made some of the farmers I know do what they do. From Indiana to Michigan to Pennsylvania I got varied answers, some were short, some were long, some touched on the humorous but they all had the underlying thread that once farming was in their blood, it was part of what made them who they are. Here are some of the answers…
Ron Harvey of Harvey’s U-Pick Farm of Tekonsha, Michigan, put it in a nutshell by explaining, “I can be my own person. I love being outside and growing things. Even though we do some field crops, my emphasis is on fruits and vegetables. I like the fact that we can provide foods that are good for people and they also enjoy what we grow. I often compare farming to a casino because we farmers gamble every day with our crops and providing for our families by choosing this way of life. But it’s a good life and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Wayne Heebner of St. Thomas, Pennsylvania, is also a die-hard farmer, having been farming for over 50 years. But he started on a completely different path. He recalls, “I have always liked to farm, I remember riding with my uncle when he went to plow. One time he came out from dinner and wondered where his tractor and plow had gotten to and I was out plowing. I had watched him enough that I figured I could do it! But my mother had other plans, she always thought I should be a doctor. Then my uncle died in an accident when I was in ninth grade and I ended up planting his corn crop. I would always rather tinker around taking something apart and putting it back together. Still, my mother thought I should go into medicine until a doctor friend of the family ran off with his secretary. After that I didn’t hear any more about it! Good thing because I just think farming is in my DNA, I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
Byron Kinsinger of Cambridge City, Indiana, is another farmer who is happiest on a tractor in the field. He described the feeling of working the ground, “I like being outside driving the tractor and equipment. There is just something about working the ground and seeing what it gives back to you. You also have control. I worked in a factory for a while and I didn’t like not having any control over the quality of the finished product. Then I worked in a garage and was told to put parts on a vehicle that weren’t needed. I called my Dad and told him to come and get me and the tools. I didn’t like treating people that way. I like to make my own decisions and I had access to land, I had to try it. It’s a right fit for me.”
Byron’s wife, Linda, echoed the same sentiments. “He’s happiest when he is in the field. As for me, I grew up on a farm and liked it and then I married a farmer. It’s our way of life.”
Ron Scruggs of Economy, Indiana, has just harvested his 45th crop this year. He had his first crop in when he was a senior in high school. “I can’t describe the feeling each year of having the crop you have worked so hard at on wheels and off the land. I never wanted to do anything else.”
Ron Hacker of Athens, Michigan, jokes, “I don’t know how to do anything else!” Bruce Johnson of Indiana also laughs, “What else would I do!” But, under the jokes, there is the same truth; there is nothing else that they would choose to do but farm.
The words of Clay Geyer of Bremen, Indiana, puts it all into perspective. His thoughts: “From a young age, I started out playing farm with Ertl farm toys and pedal tractors under the shade trees and in between the rows of sweet corn. My love for farm toys would grow into a collection covering the upstairs of the house. As a child my mind was constantly day-dreaming thinking about what dad and grandpa were up to at the farm, I would always wear my favorite farm tractor T-shirt, striped bibs, work shoes, with seed corn hat to school. I would spend countless hours riding the tractor with Grandpa raking hay, cultivating crops, all while trying to stay awake with the hum of the tractor engine. As soon as my legs were long enough to reach the pedals, I was plowing and disking, and driving the tractor and hay baler. Could never get enough time in the fields. I enjoyed riding on the tractor more than I did the school bus; show and tell for me in school was always farm related. Farming teaches so many aspects of life, the things we learned at a young age such as hard work, discipline, and respect, may have come with consequences at the times, but I wouldn't change a thing with the agricultural environment I was raised in. As a farm kid we saw animals being born and the loss of life! But it's those lessons that we take away from those events that help shape us and future generations into what we are today. Whether it's a young child or animal, if lessons are not taught or learned at a young age, it's more difficult to correct later in life. I believe as a farmer the way we were raised carries through from one generation to the next, many traits are born in us. So many generations don't know how to work or can't see work. I believe much of this is due to the fact that they were not raised on a farm. I'm proud of what I do, I don't need to be paid for everything I do, sometimes the best rewards are those donated or volunteered to others! I believe agriculture can open so many doors.”
As for me, farming is just as ingrained in my soul as it is in any farmer. I believe that God has entrusted our piece of dirt to us. What we do with it is between Him and us. Some choose to build it up and give it the nutrients it needs while others do nothing. This is with the thought that it will give back in proportion to what it gets. Most times it does.
Sometimes God throws a wrench into it; the hail storms, too much water, not enough water, too hot, too cold or a frost at the wrong time. It’s a guessing game. But we decide what is right or wrong, it’s our decision. There is power in that.
Does it pay to be a farmer? That is irrelevant because it is all in how you perceive pay. Monetarily, sometimes it pays very well and sometimes not. But there is pay in other forms like seeing the sunsets and the rainbows over your own land. There is pay in shelling the last rows of corn under a star-filled sky. And there is the oneness of being just God and you in this together, like you are the only two in the universe. Yes, this is why we farm.