By Liz Brownlee, Nightfall Farm
A Ram Truck ad in the 2013 Super Bowl caught my attention a few years ago—not because I was ever going to buy a new truck—but because the audio was an excerpt from a Paul Harvey radio broadcast. ‘So God Made a Farmer’ aired in 1978, back when “Get Big or Get Out” policy was killing my parents’ farm, and many others like it. Mr. Harvey was praising the small farmer’s ability to wear so many hats: food producer, yes, but also mechanic, concerned community member, and bird lover.
Here’s the ad.
I had mixed feelings about the ad (and it was controversial for many folks). Harvey’s politics aside, the commercial was, obviously, using the idea of a farmer to sell trucks. Its religious framing rubbed me the wrong way, too. And, of course, it assumes that only men are farmers. (On Youtube, you can now find lots of fun parodies of the piece, featuring women, liberals, and lots of others).
But I did love the audio. Harvey stated eloquently what I was just beginning to understand: that small farmers are important members of community because they contribute in a wide variety of ways.
Small farmers all across this country do much more than grow food. They run farmers markets, offer tours to preschool groups, train college students and new professionals in sustainable agriculture skills, host research projects from local universities, give talks at the library, serve on soil and water conservation district boards and other committees, run their local chapter of the National Young Farmers Coalition and the National Farmers Union, and much more.
I suppose we farm—and wear so many hats—because we are doers. We can’t help but tackle projects that need doing.
But it’s more than that, I think. Small farmers see the world in a holistic way—we know that to grow good carrots, or pigs, or flour, we can’t just take care of the soil and connect with our customers. We also have to support and encourage a maturing food system, because we see and feel how rural and urban communities are coming to life through food. These roles don’t bring in money—but they aim to make a community stronger and more livable—and, therefore, richer.
A recent day on our farm had me thinking about our hats here at Nightfall Farm. I hesitated to share this because it seemed like bragging(!), but I wanted to show a day in the life—and to lift up the small, diversified, community-focused farmers out there. Keep it up, gang—and thanks. Your many hats make our lives richer.
6 to 7 a.m. – Get in an hour of computer work and emails for my off-farm job.
7 to 7:30 a.m. – Draft and send a letter to both Indiana Senators’ offices asking them to consider cosponsoring the “Next Generation and Agriculture Act” for the Hoosier Young Farmers Coalition.
7:30 to 8:30 a.m. – Tend animals: move meat chickens’ tractors forward to new pasture, check on sheep, feed baby chicks and adjust the temperature of their heat lamps.
8:30 to 9 a.m. – Enjoy a breakfast of our own eggs, plus sourdough bread from the farmers market.
9 a.m. – I leave for my off-farm job. Nate welcomes our intern for the day and gets her started on tasks allowing her to learn on our farm
9:45 a.m. – Nate leads a field trip for geology students from a local liberal arts college. They’re studying soils. After seeing how rotational grazing can build the health of the soil, they dig soil pits on fields that we’ve enrolled in a conservation program.
11 a.m. – Move rams to new pasture. Wash 15 big coolers (chicken butcher day is this week, so we need clean coolers for transporting the whole chickens home).
2 p.m. – Introduce feeder lambs to pasture for the first time. We are building up our flock because of increasing demand. Also, we’ve just taken over the last corn/soybean field on our family farm. We’re converting it to silvopasture (including lush pasture but also persimmons, elderberries, etc.), so we’ll have room to expand our business.
3:30 p.m. – Sit down on upturned buckets in the shade. Talk with new intern about her academic, personal, and farm goals for her summer internship. Agree that this is a good chance to build her understanding of how sustainable farms work, from marketing and sales to pasture management and homesteading skills.
4:30 p.m. – Call the vet and ask a question about sick lamb (she’s fine!).
4:45 p.m. – Evening animal care: Give meat chickens feed and water; Move the laying hens mobile coop to a new spot in their paddock, give them food and water, and collect their eggs. Assess when the lambs will need to move to new pasture. For all: assess health and happiness.
5:30 p.m. – Plant sweet potatoes, basil, zucchini, and tomato starts in the garden. Weed the garlic. Water plants in case it doesn’t rain. Nearby neighbors have been getting up to 2 inches in downpours, but we are really starting to dry out. Thanks, climate change.
6:30 p.m. – Make dinner, including asparagus from the farmers market. Our asparagus isn’t that good yet: we are not great at growing veggies. Brainstorm ways to get the word out that we’re looking for a vegetable farmer to rent land from us and grow veggies here on our farm. We have more land than we need, and we’d love to see more food coming off of our farm (but we can’t add another aspect to the farm and keep doing a good job).
7:30 p.m. – Watch an episode of a ’90s television show. Kick up our feet and rest while a gentle rain rolls in.
9 p.m. – Read a chapter in our novels and fall asleep.
We are just one example of small farmers wearing many hats, raising food on the farm, and trying to do their part for their community.
Here’s a hearty pat on the back for all of you farmers out there, who are working hard in more ways than most people know, but in ways that benefit us all.
Keep it up. We need you. We value what you did today. We can’t wait to see what you’ll do tomorrow.
This blog is part of a series hosted by Indiana Farmers Union. We post blogs written by Hoosier farmers at all stages—from just beginning to long-established. If you’re an Indiana Farmers Union member and are interested in writing for us, please contact Sherri Dugger at firstname.lastname@example.org.