The farm: A place to work, a place to think


“In 1954 I remember getting out of the service in the summer and expecting to enjoy some good watermelon when I got home. But all there was were thirty acres of sand in my brother’s fields.

“When I got out of the service and came home it seemed like there wasn’t much to come home to. The farm was a mess, the family was a mess, and the crops didn’t make. Don’t know why I came back. Or why I stayed once I did come back. But then, the river was here. At least we had that.”

– from Waiting for Rain – one farmer’s struggle to hold on to a vanishing American dream by Dan Butterworth

Have you ever heard the story of George Washington’s need for a quiet place to reflect in order to make major decisions on behalf of our country? Whenever faced with the need to reach a major determination, Washington retreated to his farm to think.

I remember my dad telling me once that while many people detested milking cows, he found the milking parlor a good place to ponder dilemmas he was faced with. He turned a situation around and around in his mind like a worry stone, sometimes for days or weeks or months, before reaching weighty decisions.

I recall reading the story of a Kansas wheat farmer who said that some people would just want to jump off a cliff before facing the wide open fields that he entered with his combine year after year.

Instead of seeing it as a huge undertaking, he saw it as a peaceful place to work, and he felt the completion of harvesting each enormous field as a major accomplishment.

And when farmers aren’t working, they are usually looking over their work. Most farmers I know prefer watching cattle graze on a hillside to competing with a neighbor for the sportiest sports car on the block.

Many farmers will tell you that they couldn’t survive without a quiet place to go, to contemplate their next move, to reflect on just why they are where they are.

In the story of Archie Clare, a southern farmer struggling to hold on to his family farm during the drought of the late 1980s, author Dan Butterworth picks up on this element of the man he lived with for a time.

He writes, “Archie’s situation posed unique impediments to the success of his business. He lived a distance from the land that he farmed; he didn’t own that land free and clear so had to distribute whatever profits he garnered; he needed to keep a tenant family at the Sinclair farm in order to watch the equipment, and he incurred driving time traveling from farm to farm.

“But these elements also turned him in to a reflective man who had the time and inclination to make sense of his predicament. Before the muscle work of the day began he would have the meditative drive to the farm. And between various operations he would have to climb into his truck, his tractor or his combine and drive some more.

“All that driving gave him time to think, and when I accompanied him, to talk. Maybe that is why his views struck me as so valuable. He had an objectivity that allowed him to watch and assess his actions even as he performed them.”

One of the problems in farming is that there is no year-end bonus, no public accolades for a job well done. But most farmers would tell you they wouldn’t want the academy award presented on a podium with all the world watching.

Most will say they would prefer a fair price for the hard work and sacrifice so that they can lead a content, quiet life with a happy family.


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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, and three grandchildren.