Legacy

I lost a good friend in August and I’ve been thinking about him and about his legacy. We were at his farm over the weekend so Joanna could attend a meeting of her sheep-to-shawl team. Because I function only as the team’s logistician I was not involved in the strategy session which was being held around the dining room table. Autumn’s profusion had arrived, and the camera was with me in the hopes of capturing some color. As (bad) luck would have it, it rained sometime around sunrise and the sky had yet to clear by mid-morning. Wayne’s place is a pretty typical crop farm in that the homestead and outbuildings occupy an acre or so and the rest of the land is divided among fields of corn, grass, and soy beans. The combines have been running, down by the river near us, for two weeks now and I have been keeping a close eye on fields of sunflowers there. Wayne’s crops have dried down and the combines are scheduled to begin work there this week. The timing of our visit was lucky, for I was able to walk the fields just days before harvest. Doing so allowed connections to be made which were both strange and tenuous, and comforting and strong. In comparison to many others, Wayne was a particularly meticulous and careful farmer. He was a good businessman and watched the markets. He had a firm handle on what it would cost him to bring in a crop, well before even seed had been purchased. He could tell you, give or take, what the crop would bring when it would come time to sell. His equipment was a top priority and was always in excellent condition. Wayne was the sort who tended to things well before they failed; he sought out problems and fixed them. He even washed his equipment, you know, with water. Something I have never done; and I consider myself to be pretty darn fastidious. He was one of those folks who never, ever, rushed. He was so well-organized, so smart about everything, that he didn’t need to. He knew what needed to be done, and did it, mostly by himself. I could see my friend hauling seed and fertilizer. I could see him preparing the ground and planting. I know he watched the weather and prayed for rain, in good measure, and at the appropriate time. If I listen carefully I can hear that sigh of relief he must have breathed when he could scan his fields for those first hints of green, those long rows of tiny fingers which would grow to become broad strokes of color, covering the hills and hollows. Were he still with us, Wayne would have taken great pride in the fact that he had gotten his crops this far. He wouldn’t have smiled that broad smile of his until the harvest had been completed though. And, even then, he wouldn’t have relaxed until his grains had been stored and the equipment had been washed, greased, put away, and prepared to do it all again next year. This past Saturday I was able to walk through crops which represented the posthumous result of his very hard work. The soy beans were dried, browned, and full. The corn was ready for harvest and many hundreds of thousands of stalks stood tall in long, very straight, rows. If you looked closely, you could pick out bits of bright yellow, peeking from behind protective husks beginning to curl back, thin and dry. Silk waved, though barely a breath of air could be felt, even as I turned my cheek in the direction I thought the breeze might be coming. These fields were bountiful. They did what they were supposed to do. They did what Wayne directed them to do. These were the visible fruits of his hard labor, his good management, and a little bit of good fortune. Although Wayne and his wife had full-time jobs off the place, they dedicated all of the rest of their time to running the family farm and living life by the rhythms which were imposed upon them by the seasons. Dedicating themselves to this ancient tradition was important. With regard to this all-or-none sort of commitment, Joanna and I have often observed that This is what we do. Were you aware that 2014 has been named the International Year of Family Farming by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations? The intent is to … raise the profile of family farming and smallholder farming by focusing world attention on its significant role in eradicating hunger and poverty, providing food security and nutrition, improving livelihoods, managing natural resources, protecting the environment, and achieving sustainable development, in particular in rural areas. Although it is not my intention to enter into a discussion of the influence of agribusiness on the family farm, I would observe that it has been upon the backs of people like Wayne and his family that the tradition of the family farm persists in this country and at this time. That there were more like them.

%d bloggers like this: