Cultivating farm, family and friends

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Ohio farm

Just old enough to grasp economics, I asked my father a few questions about David Brinkley’s grave comments on the nightly news about western drought conditions driving farmers out of business.

In trying to assure me that we weren’t about to lose our way of living, he explained that we were having one of the best years he had ever experienced on our Ohio farm.

We were gathered on the north-facing porch when the day was done, watching the sun set over the western fields and pastures.

“That is one thing that has never felt right to me, but it is the way of farming and the way of economics — someone’s suffering will benefit someone else.”

He stopped to light his pipe, deep in thought.

“I want you to understand this, though. It’s not just numbers on a page somewhere. It doesn’t feel right to celebrate a really good year when you know it is at someone else’s peril.”

If you knew nothing else about my dad, that paints a pretty good picture.

Born into a multigenerational farm family during the Great Depression, he married my mom at 19 to build a life and a family.

So poor, he joked, they could carry their possessions in a bucket, the young couple worked their way to owning prosperous farmland, purchasing adjoining farms as they could.

It was a happy life, filled with work and accomplishment, but most of all family, and lots of friends in a beloved community.

“Next growing season, it might be us hurt by drought,” my father explained. “But I don’t want you to worry. I’m always thinking about how to be sure we stay ready for the next big change.”

And my mother says to this day she never did worry, even as those numbers on the balance sheet grew much higher than they’d once dreamed possible.

Dad was wise and steady, his focus on the big picture, always.

During a thread of conversation with our own friends last night, one mentioned that she remembers exploring the fields of our place with her own father, hunting arrowheads together, with our dad’s blessing.

It made him so happy to welcome people onto that land, rich with native artifacts deep in the soil.

While others would have held visitors at bay, I remember Dad saying, “My only request is you stop by again sometime and show me what all you found. The coffee pot is always on!”

Not long ago, I had a chance conversation with one man who held my Dad in great regard and said he still hears people tell about some kindness our father offered, like welcoming a family to walk his newly plowed fields.

“I never had time to hunt arrowheads, and neither did he. We were too busy trying to make a farm pay for another farm.

“But, I did seek his advice many times, and we had some great conversations over coffee at that round table at your house.”

It was a wonderful place and time, and I know my parents were incredibly proud to have their names on the deed of such bountiful land.

But they were also wise enough to know there is great joy in sharing such a place, and wisdom in knowing it is ours only for the blink of an eye as the universe unfolds.

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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, in college.

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