Stray Kernels – The World Looks Different From Here

I was 18 and working a summer job at an agricultural research facility. Bouncing down a grass alleyway between test plots in a pickup with the field station’s assistant manager, I remarked that I hoped to marry a farmer.

I can still hear Rick’s voice clearly in my mind. “You don’t want to marry a farmer,” he chortled. “It’s too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry.” I assumed he was joking. He farmed in addition to working at the research facility, and I figured he was making fun of himself and other farmers who often groused about the weather.

I’ve always been on the edge of farming. Growing up, farm fields surrounded me but my immediate family didn’t farm. My husband (not a farmer, after all) and I have lived 20+ years in a rural area with fields across the road. Most of my professional career has been here at Farm Bureau, where I can see the edge of a cornfield through my office window. I interact frequently with farmers and have toured dozens of farms. But I’ve never actually lived farming.

From my vantage point on the edge, I’ve grown to understand a lot. I know about the pressures of weather during planting and harvest. I can explain the basics of how a combine works and the life cycle of corn or beef cattle. I can ask reasonably intelligent questions when I talk to farmers, and I have a profound respect and appreciation for what they do.

Until recently, though, I mostly only understood farming from the sidelines. Then my husband started to work part-time for a farmer. Suddenly he was helping with farm building and equipment repairs. Then he was running the grain cart during harvest, catching grain as the combine was harvesting.

He was calling me after dark to say that he needed to catch a few more loads of corn so we should eat without him. He was leaving early in the mornings to move equipment or finish repairs. He missed church for several Sundays. I rushed a UTV a mile across a cold, muddy field to pick up our daughter from where she was riding with him in the grain cart tractor so I could take her to a Saturday event. I got annoyed.

Then I remembered my 18 year-old self, proclaiming I wanted to marry a farmer. Oops. Be careful what you wish for.

I was riding along with him one sunny day in the tractor this fall during harvest. As we waited in the cab, we commented on the combine and grain cart working in another field across the road, and watched the stream of cars a quarter-mile away on the highway. After a while, he mused, “You know, the world looks completely different from up here in the tractor, out here in the field.”

I continue to be struck by the profundity of that statement. It does look different. Once you’re in the field, and not just on the edge, the landscape changes dramatically. You see hills and valleys you never noticed before. You watch wildlife you didn’t know was there. From our perch high in the tractor cab that day, we saw several toads hopping through the bean stubble. I don’t know why, but it had never occurred to me that there might be toads living in soybean fields.

The perspective changes on other levels, too. My husband’s comment reminded me of Dwight D. Eisenhower’s words: “Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you’re a thousand miles from the corn field.” Lots of folks outside of agriculture have opinions about farmers, but very few have experienced farming from the middle of a field.

Remembering the words spoken to me when I was 18, I wonder if Rick wasn’t entirely joking. Maybe it was his way of telling me that once I actually lived farming, it might not seem so appealing.

My brief glimpses of farming from out in a field are a good reminder about not judging until you’ve walked in someone’s shoes.

Or sat in their tractor seat.