As you read this column, I will be embarking on a week off from the newspaper business, but this isn’t your typical week off. There are no beach trips planned. Disney’s not on my calendar.
I’ll be hanging out in an asparagus field. The bean-like vegetable is my father’s latest foray into agriculture. After growing up on a dairy farm, he spent most of my formative years raising hogs here in Wake County. Last fall, Daddy has planted a small stand of asparagus on his farm in Martin County. Now, it’s time to glean the first harvest from the plants.
We are told by more experienced farmers that the first year’s yield is very small. Daddy’s two-acre field may not produce much this year, but we’ve still got to get the spears out of the ground to encourage the growth of future spears. It’s those spears, so I’m told, that will start generating revenue for Daddy.
Unlike most of my peers, I didn’t grow up working in a tobacco field. Our hog business was a 7-day-a-week operation, 365 days a year. Aside from occasionally helping Daddy with planting or tending his little asparagus field, it’s been almost 25 years since I did any significant farm work.
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But the lessons I learned two-plus decades ago still resonate with me.
As I’ve prepared for this week on the farm, I’ve thought a lot about the love/hate relationships farmers must have with their work. Farm work is hard work. Mechanization has made it easier, but it’s still the very definition of physical labor.
Mercifully, I won’t be working under an August sun, but I’m sure Mountain Dew bottlers have been stocking up for the increased demand the occasion will generate. But when each day’s work is done, there will be a pleasing sense of accomplishment.
The best description of that feeling I can give you is to remember what it felt like when you finished a test and just knew you had done well because you had studied and were prepared. You walk a little taller, smile a little more broadly and feel like your work was worthwhile. And so it is with a hard day on the farm.
I also learned lessons in patience in my childhood farming experience. We’ve become a McNow society. We want what we want and we want it when we want it. Not three minutes later.
With the hogs, we got used to the cycle of things and you knew that, within a week or so, you’d have another load of grown animals ready to sell. It will be exasparating to work this week knowing there won’t be much to show for it. Even the knowledge that next year will be better is little solace in these moments. Patience makes it easier to handle. I suspect I will need a lot of it.
Finally, I learned farmers are some of the most creative people on earth. I can almost promise you something will go wrong this week as we work to get the crop in. Daddy, though he probably won’t admit it, seems to always have a second or third idea about how to accomplish a given task. That’s the way farmers roll.
Farming is not for the feint of heart. I will find out just how out of shape I really am. But each night, when we call it quits, I’ll enjoy the euphoria of a day well spent.