The other morning my four-year-old daughter announced she knew what she was going to be when she grows up. Surprised and a little skeptical, I asked what she had decided, half expecting to hear a princess or ballerina.
“A farmer,” she said proudly. With a smile on my face I asked her why on earth she would want to be a farmer. “It’s fun. You get to play with cows, and Grandpa’s tractors are so cool,” she answered without missing a beat.
I told her that farming is more than playing with livestock and driving big equipment; it’s a lot of hard work, long hours, and all too often things go wrong. The cows get out, it rains when you need to bale hay and doesn’t when the crops need a drink desperately. Tractors break down and some people will question your integrity just because you choose to do things differently than the people who farmed before you.
“Really?” she said in a surprised voice. “Then why are you and Grandpa always happy when you’re farming?” I thought for a minute and asked what she meant. “Even when you’re chasin’ cows or laying under the baler fixin’ something, you’re smiling.”
Now, Dad and I have said our fair share of words while herding cows or working under the broken equipment that I can’t print here, but she had a point; farming is a rewarding and challenging lifestyle. There’s nothing like driving a combine and realizing the fruits of your labor or watching that newborn calf pop up and take its first steps and knowing that new life on the farm means sustained life for families around the world.
When she first dropped the idea of being a farmer on me, I thought of all the reasons I wished she would have said princess or ballerina. But now, having time to digest it from her perspective and remembering why I wish I could farm full-time, I count more reasons why she should.
Back when I was her age, I wanted nothing more than to be a farmer like my dad and grandpa. Dad, thinking I could do better than “just a farmer,” pushed me to find another goal or career. I think he still feels a little guilty about everything he missed when my sisters and I were growing up because caring for the livestock had to come first. To this day he doesn’t eat until the cows have been fed and doesn’t sleep until after they have been bedded down. When we asked where Dad was at bed time, Mom always made the remark that he was “kissing the cows goodnight.”
I realize that modern livestock farming looks different than it did in my childhood, but the commitment to caring for livestock is a trait that’s still present in every farmer I know. It’s a value that was instilled in them by their parents – one they never forgot because it’s essential to the success of the farm and because it directly reflects upon their character.
I understand why Dad encouraged me to follow another path, but I really wish he hadn’t. I love being out there with him and the cows, and a large part of me still wants to be a farmer “when I grow up.” So, to my daughter – go for it and be proud to say that’s what you want to do. I think all of us want to be a farmer somewhere inside of us.
John Sandbothe is a Regional Manager in southeast Iowa for the Iowa Farm Bureau, he lives in Fairfield with his wife and daughter.
Through the Eyes of Our Future