At The Farm Gate'Til Death do us Part
Farmers share profound commitment to the land
Grandpa expressed concern about three things when he left the hospital: Getting home to the farm. Making sure the yard was mowed. And checking that the crops were planted.
He died on May 21 in a makeshift bedroom in the farmhouse living room on the farm where he had raised crops, hogs, cattle and a family. The grass had been mowed, and we finished planting corn and soybeans 48 hours before his death.
This fall, we harvest the first crop without our “S-1,” his call sign on our two-way radios. Rather, our family and employees remember him across the terraces at Ostroms, the timber-lined fields of the Hurlbutt farm, and the rich and flat black soils of the Billtown 80 field. We sense him in the calm, pre-dawn air as early as 4:30 a.m., when he witnessed the earth wake around him. And we see him in our pastures, where his cows’ genetics live on in our farm’s herd today.
I cannot adequately express the powerful connection farmers have to the land – to take care of it until death do them part. The land intertwined with each of Grandpa’s dying wishes. And while his body shut down, we determinedly fulfilled one wish while planting the same fields he had cared for during his career the previous half century.
Throughout Grandpa’s lifetime, he witnessed some of the most incredible advancements in agriculture. U.S. farm production tripled with innovations in animal and crop genetics, chemicals and equipment that reduced environmental impact while improving productivity. As a youngster, Grandpa’s family used horses to plow, plant and cultivate. By age 80, he operated a 500-horsepower tractor hands-free, guided by satellites. Until 85, Grandpa and I worked together during fall harvest, operating grain auger carts that took turns collecting grain from the combines and then filling the grain trucks. After school, the kids called dibs for a ride in the tractor with “Gramps” to enjoy both his company and the red licorice that Granny packed in his lunch box.
The week of Grandpa’s death, my brother and I stopped to see him one morning before heading to the field. We talked about crops, cattle, the weather and my new roles with equipment operation on the farm. I choked to silence when his hands clenched mine at my departure. His palm, fingers and knuckles were as thick, stout and strong as any working hand could come.
“One thing I never got to do was ride with you in the tractor,” he said.
He rides in my heart.
About the author: Joanie Stiers farms with her family in west-central Illinois, where they grow corn, soybeans, wheat, hay and cover crops and raise beef cattle, backyard chickens and farmkids.