It is nearly seven PM. I am sitting on the deck of our northern Michigan home listening to the whine of an orchard sprayer. My husband is on the job once again, putting on the agents that will allow us to harvest our cherries. Neither of us has eaten yet.
Farm life is romanticized all too often. In a capsule, it is hard work, planning, hard work, diligence, sacrifice, more hard work, and lots of praying. Over the forty years we’ve owned and operated the farm, we’ve had very few years where all the elements came together in just the right mix for us to exceed our goals. Our goals have been modest. At one time, it was to pay the land contract and have enough left to continue operating. Once we owned the land outright, our focus turned to expanding the orchards in addition to meeting the ever-escalating operating costs. On occasion, we indulged ourselves—a trip to Florida, a remodeling project, an aluminum fishing boat (used). We’ve rejoiced in the good years, we’ve hitched up our britches and marched onward in the bad.
As for the bad, we’ve seen our crops tossed on the ground by windstorms just prior to harvest, leaving the orchard floor carpeted in red. We’ve watched our barn burn to the ground, hit by lightening. We’ve suffered hail and rain at the worst possible times. We’ve had whole crops ruined by spring frost, wiped out in a single night. We’ve groaned as we listened to Meryl Streep conduct a disinformation campaign against an agent that helped ripen and protect cherries from weather-related damage. It has cost us dearly. There are lots of well-intentioned, ignorant people who would like to tell us how to do our business. It would be ever so nice if they would mind their own. We’ve watched as new invasive species have threatened the crop, lately a fruit fly introduced from Asia. It has been a devastating threat such as we’ve never seen, just when the EPA has removed effective chemicals from approved agents to control the pest.
As for family life, we never took a summer vacation. Ever. Just ask our three adult daughters. Both my husband and I worked outside jobs. Both of us juggled schedules so that one of us could keep the home fires burning. So to speak. The stress on farm couples can be enormous, straining relationships to the point of breaking.
I’m not complaining, just stating the facts. Compared to dairy farmers, we fruit farmers have it easy. Midwest crop farmers have it especially tough this year, unable to plant due to epic flooding. Despite the challenges, the heartaches and sacrifices, living on a farm is a privilege. Being able to look to my right and left, see the expanse of our land and the good earth that gives in abundance is a treasure few people can appreciate. Raising children where they can experience the rewards of hard work is priceless. Nothing can compare with the pleasure of literally seeing the fruits of our labors collected in tanks containing eleven-hundred pounds of succulent fruit. Nothing can compare with seeing one’s daughters grow into hard-working, responsible adults because they learned hard lessons of living close to the land. Farming is not only a business, it is a way of life that translates to future generations.
I am a country mouse. I cannot imagine living in a city where the only vista is the brick wall of the next building. Where, instead of waking to the sounds of birds, one awakens to sirens and honking horns. Where convenience is expected instead of earned. Where children are raised thinking chocolate milk comes from chocolate cows. Where one says, “it’s a tough road to hoe”.
I shake my head when I hear that phrase misquoted. I mean, who in their right mind would ever try to hoe a road? Maybe everyone should, at one time in their existence, take up a hoe and actually use it. Along a row. As in a row of vegetables, or a field of corn. I guarantee that hoeing a row isn’t as tough as hoeing a road, though it’s still hard work.
City mice don't understand what it means to make hay when the sun shines (it gets ruined if it rains), what a roost is when the chickens come home (it’s their bedroom, for lack of a better word) or how loathsome an egg-sucking dog is. I’m amazed when people walk uninvited on our land or think it is okay to take fruit without paying. It seems common sense that you ask before entering someone else’s property and taking fruit is stealing. I wonder how many people would like for me to show up on their lawns uninvited or pick their flowers. I’ll never forget the day we came upon a woman who was helping herself to rocks piled along the edge of a field. She had the audacity to get angry because we told her she couldn’t take them!
These are mere examples of a bigger cultural disconnect that can lead to misunderstanding and disdain for people who live in rural areas. We are vastly in the minority. Farmers make up less than 1% of the total population in America. Politicians find it easy to turn their backs when we make up so little of the voting public. Woe to the person who thinks they can do without farmers. Can you imagine what would happen if suddenly no one grew crops? Food is security at home and throughout the nation.
We are fortunate to know how to grow our own food, to know it comes from the labor of our hands. It is awesome to watch our crops develop from flower to maturity. Being able to reach for a cluster of cherries and relish the sweet, juicy goodness right off the tree is a delight. Few ever have the pleasure of walking over the ground they own beyond the confines of a trimmed lawn. Few have the delight of exploring the woods they alone own. These are the blessings of living on a farm, of owning land.
So supper can wait. I am a country mouse. I can delay gratification. I can be patient and resilient, knowing I will be cared for by the God who made it all.