Farming for the future
It's early morning, and I'm standing at the window at the end of the upper hallway, coffee mug in hand, watching a flock of wild turkeys strut and peck their way across an open field.
It's late April, and the field is covered with a few inches of green. I figure the local farmers who work this field will let it continue to grow, cutting and baling the hay in late summer. Some years, they plant corn in the field.
This field will be farmland for at least as long as I'm alive. My children and grandchildren, who will eventually inherit it, also understand and appreciate the need to avoid developing the land, at all costs.
As time goes on, the importance of this will become more and more clear, and more and more imperative.
Although the 2007 Census of Agriculture shows an increase in the number of small farms in the United States, farmland is still being gobbled up by developers. A struggling economy protected farmland for the past few years, but now that the country seems to be recovering, and houses are again being built.
I'm reminded of this every time I see yet another new house being built on land where corn once grew tall in the August sun.
Despite the development, local farmers are here to stay, it seems. Neat patchwork quilts of fields can be seen from most local hilltops. A drive down a country road will likely take you past cows basking in the sun in their white-fenced pastures.
Several families whose farms are withstanding the test of time come to mind: Faust, Moyer, Troxell, Cunfer, Miller, Graver.
The children of these families grow up learning the values of hard work, responsibility and perseverance that has ensured their farms' survival through droughts, floods, recessions, increasingly tighter federal regulations, and the vagaries of the farm commodities market.
Farm children learn "from small up" that cows need milking twice a day, stalls need cleaning and livestock need feeding, watering and other daily care nevermind that it's sleeting or that the farmer is miserable with the flu.
In more recent years, they are also learning how to navigate a growing load of government rules and paperwork.
They learn that farmers also must deal with an influx of newcomers, many of whom move from cities or suburbs to this rural area with nary a clue as to what farming entails. Often, the newcomers' first awakening is getting stuck behind a slow-moving tractor (decorated with a "No farms, no food" bumper-sticker), or catching that first eye-watering whiff of a freshly-manured field.
Many children of farm families get their practical educations not only from pitching in on their own farms, but also from 4H Club activities. Most often led by local farm families, 4H clubs guide youngsters in a variety of agricultural pursuits, from raising livestock, crop management, riding and caring for horses to cake decorating, sewing and even robotics. Club members also learn about leadership and how to be good citizens.
These well-rounded young people are growing up to be our next generation of family farmers. From what I've seen, they'll be good stewards, ensuring that these small farms will continue to thrive.
It will be through their hard work that future generations will someday bite into a ripe, red tomato with a thin skin, warmed by the sun and full of flavor, that they will be able to savor the buttery, salty bliss that is fresh sweet corn, and the crunch and tangy sweetness of a fresh apple bought at a local farm stand.
It will take determination, but family farmland will stay. At least here. At least these fields.