October 12th, 2021
If you know me today, you’d know how hard it is to schedule an extra-curricular activity with me outside of working hours. Some of you respect the routine and may even completely relate, but most of us have no idea why we “work so much.” Which isn’t surprising, because out of the 2.6 billion US population, only 2% are farmers.
Don’t get it twisted, this wasn’t always my lifestyle... In fact, I dreamed of going to school to be a forensic employee in an evidence lab, and then it was an artist! Watching “CSI:Miami” was so intriguing, but then someone, someday in high school gave me a 6b pencil. Next was oil paintings and don’t even get me started on the ceramic wheel… I still have dreams of being retired, spinning jars on a farmhouse porch.
Once college orientations started and web searching “Should I go to school for artistry,” my boyfriend at the time, had an angus production farm with a family operated, livestock feed mill. A couple years passed... ok maybe 4, and there was something fascinating about mow-ted-rake-bale, REPEAT. The WORK-ETHIC, even though they barely had time to eat, or had to defrost the ears on a newborn calf. The routine of a farmer was ever-changing and exhausting, yet so exciting. My mother often worried when I was randomly out until 11:30pm, fixing a tractor or helping a down cow in the barn. If we’re being honest, she probably thought we were off doing trouble, lol…
At the end of that school year, we had a serious discussion about college plans. He wanted to go to SUNY Cobleskill, a college the local 4h program had affiliations with for decades, and I searched everywhere. After orientation and comparing multiple schools, I fell in love with Morrisville State College! I dragged Cody to visit, and soon enough, he did too. The college in Morrisville, NY was a four-year college with 78 programs, specializing in agricultural and technology. I knew it had potential to guide my career aspirations in the very best way.
During the college years, this curriculum was not as easy to relate to as it was “others.” Especially those that grew up on a 5th generation replacement heifer firm or a 5,000-acre crop farm. If we’re being honest, the professors and classmates gave plenty of looks of judgement and assumptions. It didn’t help that as freshman, Cody and I scheduled some classes together at the same time. Did it help us grow as individuals? Yes. Did it help me gain confidence to feel worthy or anything other than a “girlfriend” or “gate opener?” No. During that first year, I met a professor of Agricultural Economics. I not only learned the supply and demand of the industry, but that going to college as a farmer means you are on the same playing field as the rest of your colleagues. Growing up on a farm, you learn techniques passed down from one generation to the next. Society and industry trends are hard enough for other businesses to keep up with, let alone one that is based off “generational technique.” He stressed “As an employee of your family farm, you may have a ‘job,’ but what do you bring to the table of skills and experience in comparison to other employees at that company, how will you help your business continue to grow?”
After that realization, I focused on what growth I could bring home to the family-to be business. Was it easy telling colleagues during ice-breakers that I planned on taking over a family farm that wasn’t “my family” yet. Nope, it was very awkward and intimidating. Even though I gained 8 years of experience in this industry thus far, ranging from artificial insemination of beef cattle, dairy feed science, and plant pathology. Yet here I was, still feeling out of place.
All four years, all I heard was –
“And what are you doing for work, since Cody has the farm”
“What if you breakup?” “Honey, you can’t just farm!”
“You’re not a farmer, his family is”
I finally decided on a profitable venture, deciding to double major receiving an Associates in Agricultural Business and a Bachelors in Horticulture Business Management. Morrisville was a Horticultural Institute, and had a large, hands-on Diesel Engineering program for Cody.
It’s funny now, but in the greenhouse production classes, I was the “Ag kid” with animals. I then realized, the peers sitting beside me don’t have their hands involved with acres of crops, lines of a family business, etc. They each woke up one day and dreamt of a career in the horticulture industry simply because of a love for a succulent. As I continued studying industry trends, gathering information from agriculture policy to floriculture science, I noticed something. A hidden “stigma” inside the life of being a student that isn’t a farmer’s son/daughter...
Back then it was just something I noticed, today it is something I must be thankful for. A blessing of some sort, as I sit here each evening balancing my routine. When we’re busy working 14-hour days, too tired to take on an enjoyable task, or caught up to our eyes in work, it’s easy to miss what is standing right in front of you.
As of March 2021, I OWN a cut flower farm, manage marketing for the family farm, manage the farm storefront, and coach spring lacrosse at my alma mater. As a Virgo, I should stop trying to criticize myself into being a perfectionist and spend more time thanking God for giving me the courage to become the woman I am today. As a happily married 26-year-old, working every day to give the 6th generation a profitable, growing firm… I can tell all of you to KEEP GOING.
There will be kids living this lifestyle before you, they may laugh at you for learning to drive a tractor at 16 or 23, they’re probably going to have a head start in your industry. But what sets you apart, isn’t your childhood, isn’t your parent’s occupation, isn’t which part of town you live – it’s who you become, who you work to be, and most importantly what you strive to offer the future.
If I have any advice going forward as I write this today, it would be:
“Life is all about working hard, and overcoming adversity”
Seed the crops, buy the cattle, put hours of work by day, and do your research by night!
We need more farmers, and your local community needs more local producers. If you see someone thinking about agriculture, but is too scared how, grab their hand and give support. We can all learn from each other but comparing does nothing but slow progress.