Phone calls with Dad generally start like this:
“How’s it going Dad?”
“Well, the pick-up broke down again.”
“Ground’s been too wet to start planting.”
“One of the cows has milk fever.”
I’ve grown to expect bad news. Farming is hard. But you don’t do it if you don’t love it. And my dad, he definitely loves it.
Without any brothers or sisters, I still had a great childhood because of the farm. I grew up with friends that mooed and brayed, running through corridors of corn stalks and waiting anxiously for barn kitten season. I did have a couple of people friends. But I only kept them if they loved the farm too. One little girl who came over was afraid of the milking parlor. She wouldn’t even go inside to look at the newborn calves. Needless to say, that was the last invite she received. No, I needed friends who would help me brush my donkeys and chase them down the road when they got loose. Friends who would wade through deep shit with me, literally. I inherited his nose and blue eyes, but most importantly, I inherited my dad’s love for the farm.
As a teen I started branching out, reading magazines and thinking I was going to be some big-time editor. I had watched 13 Going on 30, what can I say? Plus, I knew there was no money to be made in farming, I had learned that much. But I kept feeding the calves when I was home, I continued to stack hay every summer and looked forward to tapping maple trees on the tail-end of winter. And I even recruited an eager young boy named Tom to start helping on the farm throughout high school. Spoiler: I fell in love with him.
Over the years the farm has been a continual source of joy and concern for me. There are many small, happy moments like watching the cows return to lush pastures after the winter, or smelling the maple wafting from the old red sap house. But there have been hard times, like Dad breaking his ankle, making him unable to milk for weeks on end, and in rough shape for months to follow. Fortunately, when that happened Tom stepped in and saved the day for many days. I picked a good one. But we have had a good share of crises, and I’m sure more will come our way. Whenever one does, I always worry what may happen to the farm. What will happen if we can’t pay the bills. Will we lose it all?
Recently, we’ve been given some very good news. Our farm is being awarded an agricultural conservation easement. Basically, we will sell the development rights on the farm, meaning it can never be subdivided into housing lots and it will be protected as farmland forever. In doing so, we receive the cost difference of its value as agricultural land vs. real estate, and we get to use those funds to eliminate debt, invest in new facilities and equipment, plan for retirement and transition, or really spend it however we please. I have a few ideas brewing, though ;).