DO YOU MISS FARMING?
“Do you miss farming?”
I’ve heard that question often in the past few months. I appreciate being asked. Occasionally it comes from farmers who admit they couldn’t do what I’ve done—leaving the farm, that is.
I understand. I realize because we were more of what I call a one-off situation. It was truly easier for us. There wasn’t a long line of previous family owners in our case.
There are a number of things that make me realize the difference. The most significant is the pride folks take in how many generations of direct descendants are linked to the farm they operate. It’s one of the first things farmers tell me when I learn about their operation. And they most certainly should be proud. My fear is they have a heightened sense of awareness concerning the generational lineage of their farm because it’s being threatened. They want the farm to stay in the family. Any thought of losing it is a threat to their heritage. And the risk is very real.
Small farms are dropping like flies off a bug zapper. Dairy farms are particularly vulnerable. That has dominated the agricultural news scene for the past two years. The extent is dire.
I’m guilty of being lulled into complacency by reports of an uptick in the price of milk. My hope is those who are championing price reforms don’t find it more difficult when the price swings up a notch.
I wonder if it will increase enough to help significantly – and when the pendulum will head south again. My sense of the dairy-crisis severity was impacted at a meeting I attended recently.
A dairy farmer in attendance said, “We need help now; it’s bad out there. Soon none of us will be left.”
I thought about who the “us” is that the farmer was referring to. The “us” that’s being threatened is the small family-run dairy farm. It’s one where the majority of the labor is done by the owner of the operation along with a spouse and children. It’s a model that society has idyllized. The chores are shared by the family. The fields are harvested and critters are cared for while any surpluses are sold. It’s an honest living.
We cling to that model of simplicity. It’s what drew me to farming. I’m happy it worked for us despite the continual uphill battle to stay financially afloat. But that model is fading.
I often remind myself that dairy farming is how I landed where I am now – retired from farming but still involved through writing. I’m meeting the next generation of people who want the work and lifestyle of the independent farmer. I feel fortunate.
For the first time in our married lives Wendy and I are doing the things we could only dream of before moving on from dairying. We’ve been kicking up our heels a bit. We’re having a taste of utilizing the variety of state parks Wisconsin offers, with our 21-foot camper. It’s something we always thought we’d enjoy. To pair it with farm visits makes it doubly wonderful. We’re finishing a zig-zag journey across the state and are awed by its variety. From the patchwork of farms flanking Lake Winnebago along Wisconsin Highway 151 to the bluffs of the Driftless Area region leading to Trempealeau County and the Mississippi River, along with the rugged country of Douglas County in northwest Wisconsin, we’ve taken in a lot this July.
The state-park system is easy to fall in love with. The incorporation of camping sites in those parks with unique geological features to explore is a delight. From High Cliff State Park in Sherwood, with its limestone cliffs and gorges, to Pattison State Park in Superior, where the state’s highest waterfalls impress, we’ve enjoyed seeing what Wisconsin has to offer. We’ve done most of our travels during the work week so the parks have been well-used but quiet.
Despite the difficult time farmers are having I’m impressed by the spirit farming folks have displayed on our trip. I look forward to telling you about some of them in the next few weeks.
(You can read more of Greg Galbraith’s blog at www.poeticfarmer.com)