As a kid, I wanted to be a farmer when I grew up. My maternal grandparents were livestock and grain farmers, and relatives on my dad’s side were dairy and grain farmers.
My first jobs were farm related. During the summer going into my fifth-grade year of school, I raked in $2 an hour driving a green Oliver tractor bailing hay. I think it was a model from the 1950s, and I thought I was the coolest kid in America sitting behind the wheel in the open air. In high school, I worked on my uncle’s dairy farm, feeding and milking about 100 head of cattle. I got paid $20 a week. Many teenagers I knew growing up got their first job walking the fields detasseling corn—a job now done by machines.
I was thinking of farmers last week during the full moon. I remember them out in the fields, taking in the harvest in October, and being grateful whenever they could work through the night under a full moon. There’s something magical about working in a field, bringing in grain that’ll feed numerous families, under a bright orange moon.
The window to harvest crops is usually pretty narrow, so being able to work all night picking corn or combining soybeans can be a big deal. Yet despite the pressure to complete the harvest in time, the farmers I know have religious convictions. Even during the busy harvest season, they will not work on Sundays, other than necessary tasks like feeding and milking cows.
My grandfather used to tell me, “What you gain by working on Sunday you lose during the week.” It’s always stuck with me. Not to get too philosophical, but I do believe, as I’ve gotten older, that a person does lose something by working seven days a week.
The farmers I know are hard workers in the tough, gritty, manual labor sense of the word. They’re the type of people behind the term “farm tough,” which to me is a combination of physical strength and mental determination to work hard under any conditions or circumstances, and never think about complaining or calling in sick.
I’m also impressed with how machinery has advanced since my grandfather was an active farmer. At one time, he had a two or three row corn picker that he pulled behind a tractor for the harvest. It chucked the ears of corn into a wagon that was pulled behind the picker. It did an inadequate job, and he’d have to go into the fields after the harvest with bushel baskets to pick up all the ears that were lying on the ground.
There’s probably more technology in new farm equipment than was used to send the first person to the moon. I’m in awe when I see 18-row combines in action — and how fast they can cruise down a field.
These advances in machinery are part of the reason farmers are able to feed more people than ever before. In the 1970s, a single farmer fed 73 people. Today, one farm feeds 166 people, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation. Whenever I get stuck on the road behind farm equipment, I don’t get impatient. I marvel at their machinery and am appreciative of the food they help put on our tables.