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Monday, November 3, 2014

Reality Check: Patches Don't Make a Farmgirl

Turning on one of my favorite cooking shows.....

Thank you Graphics Fairy!

The kids go down to the barn, all clean and sweet, to feed the baby calves with a milk bottle. The calves are almost as adorable as the kids and everything looks so wonderful and wholesome. Everything is wonderfully clean and organized.

And this is presented as reality...


I pick up one of my favorite magazines and read how you can create your "farmgirl patches" and that you can live in the city and still be a "farm girl" if you feel it in your heart.

Thank you Graphics Fairy!

Um, sorry to say that patches don't make a farmgirl and life on a farm isn't that organized.

That's not to say I begrudge these shows and magazines from presenting and idealized version of the "product" that they are selling, after all, I'm obviously buying their product too. But, having grown up on a farm, I realize what reality is and what fantasy is. Growing up on a farm teaches you what reality is and a lot of valuable lessons that will serve you well throughout your life.

  1. Everyone in a farm family has a role.When you are born to a farm family you realize that even as a child you have a role in the success of the family business. I learned how to drive a tractor at the age of 7 or 8 to help my father with bailing hay because there wasn't anyone else available. You have chores and you learn that when you don't do them, there are repercussions. Something doesn't get fed, it comes through the fence. The gate isn't locked correctly, you end up chasing animals.
  2. Farming is a dirty, messy business - and that's ok.
    Farming involves muck, mess and sometimes mucus.        
    Let me tell you, as cute as those little calves are, try lugging six 2qt bottles heavy with milk that you mixed together down to the barn in 20 degree weather, plugging them into the feeder and then getting slimed with calf mucus when they miss or when you take up the bottle. Of course there is also the benefit of having your "bad touch" areas head butted by a calf trying to get milk. It's work and it's worth it, but it's not as pretty as television will make you believe that's for sure.

    My niece with this year's pig at the Genesee County Fair.
  3. Livestock are not pets. They have a purpose. Farmers are not heartless but the recognize the circle of life probably better than anyone. They'll do everything they can to try to save an animal's life in an emergency situation but ultimately that animal's purpose is to provide a meal for his or her family and a livelihood. It's a harsh reality that not everyone can face. Meat doesn't come from a store all wrapped up nicely, an animal had to give it's life so you can eat. The most we can do is be thankful for their sacrifice. Vegetarianism hasn't always been a choice. I highly doubt there were any vegetarians during the Ice Age. Also remember, life is life.  Vegetables also have life, eating a vegetable is still taking life. We've just simply rationalized that one is better or worse than the other.
  4. You learn to be adaptable, early. This is probably one of the most valuable lessons I think you learn growing up on a farm. Life has a way of changing your plans-adapt or die. Many mornings I would wake up to find the cows wandering in the front yard and have to go out there in my nightgown and chase them with the neighbors to get them back in. (Also modesty, as you can see, often goes out the door as well.) Recently on a trip back home for Christmas, one of the animals was sick and possibly dying. My mom went out to assist my dad so I took up the duties of working on the dinner so she could deal with the animal.
  5. Panicking is a luxury. When you panic on a farm something dies. Its as simple as that. Panicking is a luxury you really don't have. I came home from college one day to find all four of my mother's horses running around the neighbor's field. I was the only one home. I had to figure out how to get them all back in the stall myself. I realized that if I was able to get the main horse, Starlight, the others would follow. So I got the red bucket that we fed them from, called to the horses, and once Starlight saw her bucket, she thought she was getting fed (which I gave them all a little scoop) and I got them all back in the pen. Could I have panicked? Yes. Would that have solved anything? No. Because you learn to keep your head you work well in emergency situations. In an emergency, you want someone like me, who grew up on a farm, in your foxhole.
  6. You trust your instincts.
    When I was about fifteen, the aforementioned Starlight fell through the swamp that was in the horse pasture in the middle of December. I knew I had to get that horse out and get her as warm as I could. I put a blanket on her and walked her around her stall until my mother came home. I knew nothing about shock or what it looked like, but essentially, I was trying to keep the horse from going into shock.
    Trust what makes sense, don't second guess yourself. Our world constantly tells us we are wrong, what we know isn't correct, that some self-styled expert knows more than we do. Bag it all. You know more than you think you do. Trust yourself.
  7. Hardwork is its own virtue.
    It often takes time to see the end result of your hardwork and sometimes you can do everything right and things still go south or your work goes unnoticed. You can plant a field only to have a year with little rain. You can do everything possible for an animal only to have it die anyway. If you can be proud that you did everything to the best of your ability at the end of the day, that is enough.

  8. Be as self-sufficient as possible but never be afraid to ask for help.Always prepare for that cold day in January. Can, stock, freeze and prep. Do everything you can to make sure that you and your family are prepared for the worse and hope for the best. But, should you need help, or someone needs help from you, always be ready to lend a hand.
  9. When others shy away, stand up.On a farm, there's chores that have to be done, period. No excuses. If you don't do them now, you'll pay for it later. If you stand up and accept your responsibility when something happens, you don't have to deal with it later, it doesn't wear on your mind. Besides, you'll respect yourself more if you deal with a situation head on then shy away from it.
  10. Anyone that views a farmer as a "Local Yokel" has no idea what they are talking about.A farmer has to be a banker, an actuary, a gardener, a vet and a weatherman all at the same time. You have to project into the future as to whether it's profitable to plant a crop and what the rate of success will be in that particular year. You have to balance the books to make sure that your business, farming, doesn't go in the red. You have to make sure your animals are happy and healthy.

    So, next time you see bucolic images about living on a farm or someone indicating that "farming is a state of mind" that we are all "farmgirls at heart", realize that you are being fed a fairytale. Claim where you are, claim what you are and be proud of that. I've been very fortunate to have grown up on my family farm but I didn't always realize that. Bloom where you are planted and when you look back at your upbringing, I'm sure you'll find lots of valuable life lessons that serve you to this day. 



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