Monday, April 8, 2013

Ode to My Grandfather..and Work-Ethic

Grandpa was a hard worker and from what I can tell so was his dad.  Immigrants from south-west Germany, when my Great-Grandfather and his brother arrived here they found the thing they already knew – farming.  For 2 generations (and more, I’m sure), one’s work ethic was one’s survival.  And so it has been with my father – the third generation.  

Anyone could say the same for their family – that a strong work ethic has led to survival or growth… maybe even a rise from poverty to some sort of economic stability.  As I sit near the window watching the snow come down thick, blown about by the wind, it feels like it’s worth noting that the men who have brought me to this moment have had to fight the elements daily.. have had to push hard against the wind.. have had to withstand the heat of a dry summer sun.  

It seems my dad understood “work” early on and embraced it.  He isn’t addicted to work as some are, but he appreciates a job well done.  My grandfather had little to offer to my dad as far as land or inheritance.  He sold the dairy cows when his boys all left home.  But a successful farmer at church recognized potential in my dad, and asked him to join his farming operation.  

Farming has changed a lot since my Grandpa started.  In 1940 when he was about 20, there were 30 million farmers in America– a little over 6 million farms.  Farmers made up 18% of the labor force in this country.  It took 10-14 hours of labor to produce 100 bushels of corn.  When Dad was entering the workforce in the early 70’s, the population of farmers was down to 9 million.  30 years of laborers heading to the city and increasing production costs made it so farming accounted for only 4.6% of the labor force.  The efficiency of production had increased exponentially, but fewer families could afford the financial risks involved.  

Somehow my parents weathered those storms.  Dad has a reputation for taking care of his property and raising healthy cattle.  They now own some of their own farmland and equipment.  Dad still farms with the family that he’s been with for 30 years.  It has been a good partnership and the only way that he would have been able to do this thing he loves.

2 years ago he started thinking about changes that would be coming up and talked about needing to hire some help – especially with the busy season.  As I looked at our needs and my desire to still be as available as possible to my young children, I told him I wanted to apply for the job.  He seemed pleasantly surprised and we started talking about the details of how this might work.  

There’s nothing like manual labor to allow an in-depth study on work-ethic.  As we toil through the wind or race against the racing day, I reflect on the various meanings of perseverance, commitment, and strength.  I see the usefulness of instilling these virtues in my children.  And I am inspired to challenge them.. and myself, more often. 

Today there are around 960,000 full time farmers in the United States and about the same number of part time farmers. It's such an expensive venture it's hard to make a living off of it. A very small number of those farms produce a large percentage of the agricultural produce in this country. It used to be there were many, many small farms. Now a small number of farmers own the bulk of the land. In a lot of ways it's a very different job then it was when my grandfather helped his dad.  

To say that farming has changed dramatically this last century, seems like a ludicrous understatement.  But it has.  What hasn’t changed is the drive and fortitude that my father inherited from his father.  If I could glean just a drop of that from working with my dad, I will be better off for it.

photo credit: elviskennedy via photopin cc
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