Agriculture, Rural Living February 01, 2022
For the Love of Farming
Appreciating the little moments of joy through the season.
According to Thomas Jefferson, “Agriculture is our wisest pursuit, because it will, in the end, contribute most to real wealth, good morals, and happiness.”
So much has changed about agriculture and farming since the United States’ third president said these words more than 200 years ago. Yet, this quote hangs on farm office walls today because the reasons remain the same as to why farmers endure harsh weather, long hours, rollercoaster markets, and any number of new stressors each season.
“Why do people farm? I think there’s a lot of things you can do for a living that would make you equal or better money, but there’s a passion. There’s definitely a passion for it. I was hooked my first harvest,” says Chris Dearden, grape grower and wine maker from Napa, Calif. “I think it’s kind of self-fulfilling: if you like it, you’re going to love it, and if you don’t, it spins you out right away.
For Dearden—and many others whether they raise grapes, cattle, or soybeans—that passion comes from the seasons and working toward harvest each year.
“This cyclical nature of our business is really a great thing. It’s a renewal. I’ve been doing this for 35 years, and I still get excited every harvest,” he says as if it is a true holiday. “It’s awesome to take this commodity and turn it into products people enjoy on their tables every night.”
He levels his giddiness in a way only a seasoned farmer can, by remembering that he is gambling on the weather.
“If you think you have grown your best crop, you should hang it up because one of the greatest parts of this is rolling with the punches Mother Nature gives you and trying to improve upon last year,” Dearden says.
Finding the balance. “When we are in the thick of it, I don’t have time to think about why I love it. We’ve worked so hard and prepared ourselves for go time. It’s really challenging both mentally and physically in season because Mother Nature doesn’t wait for us to be ready. There is no recipe, but that’s okay and part of what makes it fun,” Dearden says.
To combat the toll farming can take on you, taking time in the off season to remember why you farm is arguably as important to planning out the next season - as is taking a moment to appreciate the things you love about farming as they happen through the season. It might be: When a new calf is born.
When you make the first passes with the planter.
Watching your kids mimic what you’re doing in the field with their toy tractors.
When it rains on newly emerged seedlings.
The smell of pollination. Seeing your crop change color as it matures through the summer.
Watching the sun set across the whole field.
Having your dog beside you all day.
Watching corn stalks wiggle down into the head like the used car lot’s dancing air man.
Seeing the dew burn off early in the morning.
Eating supper in the field with your family.
Or any other moments through the growing season.
“Sometimes I think I almost lose sight of it because of the chaos. I don’t have the time or mindset to stop and smell the roses,” says Dana Jokela, 35-year-old produce farmer from Cannon Falls, Minn. “The moments I get it are evening field walks where I’m out there and get to see the work. There’s this magic of taking a seed, putting it in the soil, and transforming it into the crop that feeds me.”
Jokela has been raising a variety of organic vegetables on his family’s farm for the past seven years. His grandparents and uncle previously raised livestock, forage, and row crops. He started selling through farmers’ markets and CSA subscriptions before finding a wholesale niche, which provides important diversity and stability.
“We’re still honing—putting one foot in front of the other and seeing what works and adapting as we go,” he says. “But looking to the future, I know I want to find the balance of worrying if the gate is closed and going for camping trips with my kids. We are working towards the elusive model where we can be growing food, working hard, and doing our part but having enough headspace to be present.”
Further pursuits. The balance Jokela is seeking is so elusive because the lines of work and life have forever been blurry. Farming is not the easiest way to make a living, but raising a family on a farm affords opportunities unlike any other upbringing. This is what gives those in agriculture the “real wealth, good morals, and happiness” Jefferson spoke of.
For Steve and Heather Stettner, who raise cattle, corn, and soybeans in Palmer, Neb., watching their sons and daughter learn to love farming is exactly that.
“To us, doing things with our kids on the farm sometimes feels like you’re just getting another day of work done. When you hear them telling stories of what they did or they come home from school with artwork about their farm life, you remember it’s so much more. Farming is a love language,” Heather says. You don’t have to live on the farm to develop this love though. It can captivate anyone who is exposed.
Dalton Black, 20 years old of Streator, Ill., grew up watching his uncle farm and has always dreamt of running his own farm someday. Until that day comes, he is happy to gain more experience working for neighboring farmers.
“Despite the long and strenuous hours, what draws me to farming is that it’s a career field that never quits advancing in any way. Throughout my life, I will see things other people could never have imagined. I’m just excited to be a part of it.” ‡
Go the Distance
A special night shows America’s love for baseball – and corn
RURAL LIVING, SPECIALTY/NICHE
Berry Happily Ever After
A strawberry farming dream come true.