By Nate Brownlee, Nightfall Farm

I don’t think I’d be alone in saying that a healthy dose of ego goes into being a farmer. It goes without saying that we farmers are proud of what we do—if I wasn’t this proud to be a farmer, I’d definitely have more free time. We all think we’re doing a good thing, whether we’re on the “feed the world” end of the spectrum or excited to be selling at the local farmers market, feeding our community. And while sometimes it takes all I’ve got to get through a 93-degree day, we are all thinking about the future of our farms.

I think the pride I take in farming helps drive me to do a good job, day in and day out. That accountability to self sends me back out to the pasture when I’m tired but there’s more to do. It gets me out of bed when I’m tired but there’s a full day’s work ahead. And it keeps me smiling at the market when I’m tired and interacting with a difficult customer.

This month, I’ve got a particular benefit of prideful farming in mind: I can fill my internal gas tank when I get a simple but heartfelt “thanks” from a customer, and my tank fills to the top when I get a genuine compliment. Hopefully this is true with all of you farmers—that there are a few thank-you’s that stick with you for years.

My first stick-with-you thanks came at the perfect time. It was right before we moved home to start our farm, during our last week of the season working at Maple Wind Farm in Vermont. It was the on-farm Thanksgiving turkey pickup day, and one of the customers was Jason, a vendor from the farmers market. We had sold together for two years, getting to know one another along the way.

Jason was in line with his two kids, and I was walking down the line and checking in with customers when I noticed him and struck up pleasantries. During the short conversation, he turned to his kids and said: “This is Nate, the farmer who cared for your Thanksgiving turkey. Tell him thanks.”

It took Jason less time to make that gesture than it will for you to read this sentence, but I will never forget it. The strength of that sentiment helped carry me through the trials of the next year starting our farm from scratch. That’s been five years now, but Jason’s action springs to mind because I just got another lasting compliment last week.

I participated in a fundraising dinner for our burgeoning area food co-op, delivering a short pitch for the importance of food co-ops to local farmers. After the dinner, I was stopped on my way to my car by a woman (she’s a repeat turkey customer, though I don’t mean to give the impression that only turkey customers are awesome!). She complimented me on what I had said during the dinner, saying that she always learns something whenever I speak. And then she thanked me for my hard work and for caring so much about what I do.

Now, neither of these are earth-shattering compliments on the surface (though they meant the world to me). But that’s what I like about these two moments. Each was simple, easy and heartfelt. Customers can run the gamut from those who are purely businesslike (which often includes the customary “thanks,” but it’s not the same) to those who stay for a good long spell and talk cooking, family recipes and reactions to meals, before commenting on how grateful they are for our food.

In conclusion, I’m not fishing for compliments but hoping to spread the gratitude out to all you farmers. We all depend on the people who grow our food, and on most days, a farmer’s pride and goals for the future are all that’s needed to power through heat or tribulation. But hopefully, this blog is a reminder of the power of gratitude. Farming is meaningful work, but we all like to be rock stars and to be reminded of that meaning every once in a while.

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 sdugger@nfudc.org.

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