ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
I spent most of my Fourth of July sitting in the shaded stadium seats of Light Capital Diamond in McPherson, watching American Legion baseball and listening to firecrackers popping in the surrounding neighborhoods.
It was an all-American way to spend an all-American day.
My Fourth was in sharp contrast to the one experienced by many of my farmer friends-at least one of whom would have been sitting with me in the stands, watching his son play ball if he was not still harvesting wheat.
I remember those Fourth of Julys, too. I grew up on a farm, so I know summer holidays are what we city folk celebrate because we’ve got nothing more productive to do with our lives.
On many an Independence Day during my youth, the only fireworks I enjoyed was the occasional spark from the tractor muffler. Sitting under the blazing sun and choking on dust-no air-conditioned cabs in those days-I felt anything but independent.
To be sure, a lot of things have changed since I left the farm. But I sense some things haven’t. Some things about farming likely will never change.
Farming is a job from which you never “go home.” It’s there when you wake up and it follows you around all day until you go to bed. If you go to bed.
Farming is calloused palms, dirt under the fingernails and grease-stained hands that don’t come clean anymore, even for Sunday church.
Farming is trading hard-luck stories of harvests lost by drought, flood, hail, bugs or disease-even as you’re buying seed for next year’s crop.
Farming is counting your chickens before they hatch-because the bank requires it for the loan application.
Farming is planning the family’s annual summer vacation for some time in January or February.
Farming is hearing on the radio that wholesale food prices have increased again-then hearing that grain and livestock markets are lower for the day. Again.
Farming is making peace with the fact that nothing is certain in life except death, taxes and rain when the hay is down.
Farming is harvesting 20 bushels to the acre when you expected 50, and harvesting 50 when you expected 20.
Farming is being caught up enough with work that you can finally attend one of your child’s ball games…then noticing the cows are out.
Farming combines a bushel of careers into one. On any given day you’re an accountant, mechanic, computer programmer, scientist, veterinarian, plumber, electrician, contractor, marketing specialist and politician.
The good thing is you don’t have to enroll in a school to learn each of those professions. The bad thing is you aren’t earning anything close to the salaries they command either.
Farming encourages polygamy. Spouse and soil demand-and deserve-a lot of loving attention. You’d be a fool to treat either one like dirt.
Farming is criticizing the government for not coming to the aid of struggling farmers-and then cursing the government for interfering in your business.
Farming is learning to drive delicate machinery with one eye on the row ahead and the other on the clouds above.
Farming is betting your livelihood that in any given year the seed will be good, the weather will cooperate, the machinery will hang together, interest rates won’t rise, markets will be better and the landlord will be in good humor.
Studies have indicated that farming is the most hazardous occupation in this country. I think the focus of those studies was on physical injuries. Then again, it might have been on economics. Or mental health.
As a kid, I used to think anybody could farm. Just work hard enough and long enough, and you’ll come out OK.
When the time came for me to choose a career path, I already realized how wrong I was. In this day, it takes more than brawn and persistence to make farming pay.
Given the demands of modern farming, I was probably smart to leave it. Truth is, I knew I wasn’t smart enough to stay.