Steve, his mom and I drove to the airport in Cleveland June 30 with our oldest son, Austen and put him on an airplane to Selden, Kan. A whole 25 days after graduating from high school, he was off to live a dream he has had since at least the eighth grade, to spend a season on a harvest crew. He’ll be home when the harvest is done in November.
If the early wheat crop in Texas and Oklahoma hadn’t been so poor, he would have been gone the day after graduation, but Schiltz Harvesting didn’t need a full crew until they were ready to head north.
I love my son dearly, but he is a perfect example of why kids should go work for other people. Being the owner’s son or daughter does not always give a child the “real world” experience of being an employee that they will get being employed elsewhere.
Austen is a very hard worker, but has always been a little too selective in what he wanted to do — translation: eager to do anything involving a tractor, blind to anything involving a broom, shovel or pitchfork — that would be an employee’s job.
As a Mom, I think this is a great experience for Austen. I thought about doing the same thing, but did an internship on a dairy in Switzerland instead. My hopes are that he will have great experiences learning and seeing new things and meeting new people that will give him new perspectives — on agriculture and life in general — as he comes back and starts studying agronomy in January.
He is seeing and learning about dryland and irrigated farming, and experiencing the results of not implementing conservation practices as they dodge washouts in fields. He knows what it is like to work a 600-acre field of wheat, to see 3,000 acres of sunflowers.
My biggest fear either hasn’t materialized or I will never hear about it. Austen is not a neat young man. He is in appearance, but leaves a path at home, in the shop, in the garage, you get the picture. The crews live five or six to a 50-foot camper. Now these are really nice campers with several pull-outs, so they are not suffering.
OK, so he is living with five other guys, but the mother in me thought, “what if these are tidy guys?” They might take my son out back and beat him up if he isn’t neat. Being a good mother I shared this concern and possible outcome with Austen before he left, so I’m sure he changed his ways. Right.
Actually, after seeing a picture of the whole crew in front of Mount Rushmore, I realized that Austen is the biggest kid on the crew.
He and the other Midwestern boy miss real trees. Two young men from Ireland have taught the others a few new words and the ability to decipher their accent. The crew has also been able to visit some other sights out West when they were nearby (“nearby” out west is a relative term).
This experience has already changed our son. One Saturday he called to tell me he had made a salad that I always make for him and his Dad in the summer. Voluntarily eating vegetables, and fixing them himself!
He also pulled his Dad into the 21st century and has him texting. They keep in touch on what is happening on the farm here and what is happening with the crew out there.
With two and a half months in and two more to go, this season on the harvest crew has been a good experience for Austen. While he would help out other people from time to time, there was more than enough work for him here at home, so he has never been a full-time employee elsewhere until this summer.
No matter what path he chooses after his studies at Ohio State — where he will start at ATI and finish on main campus — whether he ties his future in with our farm in some way or strikes out on his own, he will be better because of what he has learned and experienced this summer.