In 2013, one of the favorite commercials during the Super Bowl was Paul Harvey’s God Made a Farmer. Harvey originally delivered the speech to the Future Farmers of American in November of 1978. In the thirty-five years between the original speech and the Super Bowl commercial, the number of farmers in the United States dwindled to less than one percent of the population. Even though we all depend upon farmers for our food, there are fewer and fewer of them every year, and today the average age of a farmer is fifty-seven.
Most of my childhood was spent in a tiny little village in southern lower Michigan named Manchester. My Grandpa and uncles farmed the land all around our house. Even though he had all kinds of tractors and equipment, what my Grandpa loved best was farming the land with his horses. One day he brought the horses, giant Belgians, over to the field behind our house to plow. The memory of how I finagled it escapes me, but I secured a spot next to him as he started tilling the field. I’ll never forget my Grandpa talking about how much he loved driving his horses that day. It was pretty impressive to watch them work, perking up when he gave them some encouragement, or correcting their behavior when he gently chastised one of them for slacking and making the other horse do more than his fair share.
He always whistled a little tune while he was working – to this day I have no idea if it was from a song he knew or if it was something he made up. When I was going through a “one day I’m going to write a musical” phase in my teenage years, I gave it words and it went like this, “I’m a farmer, I’m a farmer, who’s got his very own land, I’m a farmer, I’m a farmer, and there’s nothing else so grand.” Although those are obviously very clever lyrics, that career path never really panned out for me. What is crystal clear in my mind, however, is the joy and contentment my Grandpa felt being a farmer.
In 1978, just a few months before Harvey gave his speech, I graduated and left Manchester, returning only for brief family visits. My Grandparents have been gone for quite some time now, but two of my uncles still farm, George and Brenda at Rose Briar Haflinger Farm and Carl and Connie at Crescent Beauty Haflinger Farm.
Around 1:30 in the morning on June 23, 2015, my Uncle George and his family awoke to heavy rain and then the power flickered off and on. Moments later the house was struck by a tornado. Miraculously, everyone made it to the basement and their dogs, horses and goat were unharmed. Part of the roof ended up in a field along with the goat’s house and several trees were destroyed. There are more details and pictures here.
What do farmers do when calamity hits? Well, to quote my cousin, they start building. Being a farmer is not for the faint of heart. You have to be willing to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start over. I’m proud of my uncles and cousins who carry on the family tradition of farming. They have had more than their share of ups and downs over the years and it hasn’t been an easy life.
On my own I’m not smart enough to figure out how to save our family farms or convince kids that farming truly is a grand profession, but perhaps it’s something we can do together. Whether it’s buying locally, shopping at Farmer’s Markets, or just saying thanks, let’s do everything we can to support our farmers.