I was a terrible farm kid. Other farm kids I knew embraced their role as an apprentice who would eventually take over the family farm. Early morning chores. Driving tractors before they were legally allowed to do so. 4-H. My mornings involved Cinnamon Toast Crunch and cartoons, and didn’t start before 9:30. My dad knew early on that I couldn’t be trusted with large machinery. Five minutes into my first experience on our riding lawnmower, I quickly forgot the first lesson (which pedal was the brake). I panicked and jumped off the mower right before running it into a fence.
I was involved in 4-H, but not for showing livestock like other farm kids. I won purple ribbon for my chocolate chip cookies. On days I was mandated to help Dad load hogs for market, I jumped right out of bed after Mom yelled up to my room for the seventh time. I prepared for the dirty, stinky hard labor by taking a hot relaxing shower. If I was going to be manhandling pigs all morning, I needed a psychological upper hand by smelling better than they did. I certainly wasn’t going to frighten them with my brute strength or commanding presence.
I didn’t seem to have much in common with my fellow farmkid brethren. I didn’t even listen to country music. I owned a rap album before I owned any country albums. (MC Hammer counts for rap, right?) It took the magical powers of Shania Twain to eventually convince me country music was an acceptable genre. I pretty much failed as a farm kid. However, the farm certainly didn’t fail me. I managed to pick up some key life lessons along the way.
BE KIND TO EVERYONE. I would often ride with my dad down lonely South Dakota country highways. When we finally encountered an oncoming fellow traveler, Dad would give a friendly nod and a wave as we passed each other. Did he know that person? Sometimes. Usually no. That seemingly benign gesture always resonated with me. Extrapolated to larger life experiences, it taught me to treat people with kindness, regardless if they were my best friend or complete stranger. When interacting with humans, instead of judgement, fear or anger, our default response should always start with a simple “hello.”
WORK HARD. Pigs don’t take themselves to market. Crops don’t plant themselves. (Well, technically they can, but not in a very organized fashion.) Fence broken? Fix it. Cows got out? Go get ‘em! (Hey, you should have fixed that fence!) There are many factors to success you cannot control. How hard you work isn’t one of those factors. Gordon B. Hinckley once said, “Without hard work, nothing grows but weeds.” Who’s Gordon B. Hinckley? I’d never heard of him either, but apparently that guy was a quote machine!
APPRECIATE CREATION. The world is filled with beauty and wonder. I’d cite Shania Twain (again) as proof, but my wife reads this column, so I’ll refrain. Watch a farmer gaze across acres of corn just starting to peek through the soil. You’ll be convinced there is more than germination and photosynthesis going on. A farmer can appreciate the process as both science and miracle, with no need to find distinction between the two. Not impressed by plants? Bottle feed a baby calf. If that doesn’t melt your heart, you were obviously born without one. Seek medical attention immediately.
I certainly overlooked some lessons as a farm kid. I couldn’t tell you the difference between a John Deere 820 vs. 830 ... vs. a ham and cheese sandwich. But there are a few core values I learned on the farm that have stuck with me. I also bake a mean chocolate chip cookie.