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.

16 thoughts on “Legacy

  1. I hold family farming in very high regard. I think I mentioned before that is the same over here. Most farmers and winemakers (as I live in a winemaking area) run their small farms as side-projects while working full time in an unrelated job. Farms are “small” in relation to industrial farming. Given the work it requires to cultivate grapes, often growing on steep hills, I don’t consider the vineyards “small”. Working full-time for people often means they have to commute to Vienna, thus driving 50-100km twice each day (for a densely populated country like Austria this is a lot). “Organic” farming is hyped here, so it helped smaller farms to survive. But now consumers demand so much “organic” food so that the regional production is not sufficient, and organic food is imported – having been harvested in countries with lower wages and lower costs of living. Another somewhat profitable way to survive as a farmer is offering “holiday on a farm” – not as down-to-earth as it sounds as the rooms meet quite high standards in my opinion. I would expect that this is also getting quite competitive.

    • That trend to opening the farm to the public has caught on here as well. The economics of small farming is on such a knife-edge that folks need to find lots of creative ways to make it work. They are highly motivated to do so … thankfully for all of us! Thanks Elke for your insightful observations and comments … as usual! D

  2. It is a shame for sure when someone dies too young. With all his hard work, one would expect him to be fit and have a long life, but things don’t always work that way. You have crafted a very nice verbal portrait of your friend Wayne, David, and have many fond memories.

    • Thanks Steve. And to think that he was able to cultivate all of this ground while holding down a day-job as well. I was going to say, ‘Sometimes I wondered how he got it all done,’ and then I remember that, in addition to that day job, working the farm was what Wayne did … period. It’s a full-time-job-and-a-half, or more. D

  3. Hear, hear! I support this laudable effort! Farming is not an easy life. I suspect it chooses you and not the reverse. Will Wayne’s wife continue to farm? Never knew what a soybean looked like in its natural state! I am just used to seeing them steamed in a Chinese restaurant! Not a beautiful looking crop. Kind of reminds me of hairy spider legs!

    • We’re not sure. You’d think that with lots of farming folks in the area that the work could be hired out … but it is usually the case that most farmers are busy taking care of their own crops and don’t have much time to look after ground which belongs to others – even if paid to do so. I would guess the fields may be rented to others in the area. D

  4. What a lovely tribute to your friend. I liked what you said about living with the rhythms imposed upon us by the seasons. I guess you could say that we all must try to accept and live with what life and nature impose upon us, and we must be gracious about it. It sounds like Wayne learned this lesson well and lived by it. He was quite a role model.

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