Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The Farm that Built Me

I can remember where I was when I heard Miranda Lambert's song 'The House that Built Me' a decade ago. I was in New Mexico for a six-week dairy program between my sophomore and junior years of college. I vividly remember one of my classmates saying how the song is so relatable to many people because we all have that house we grew up in that helped shape us into who we are today. At 20, I didn't think too much of it. At 30, I do.

For me, that house was a two-story white farm house with a kitchen overlooking one of the cow pastures. It was full of cow decorations, Mary Moos and so many family photos. If you didn't know better, you might think the dairy farm had moved indoors. Today, you'd think that of my place. It was where my brother and I grew up. It was where we learned about hard work. Actually, a lot of that also took place in the barn, on the tractor, and in the driveway where we would lead our show cows around.

That house. That barn. It was home. It always will be.

However, that wasn't our parents house. As the kids of very busy parents who both worked in the airline/aviation business, we were lucky to have dairy farmers for grandparents. Although the milk cows have been gone and the stantion barn empty for years, you couldn't convince me that Grandpa wasn't overjoyed the day two Holstein heifers arrived back on the farm as our first 4-H projects.

This house. This farm. This is the farm that built me.

The hardest thing I ever did was leave. It gets easier every time, but I'll never forget that nervous feeling the summer I jetted off to New Mexico to a small town I had to find on a map because I didn't know where it was. 'What was I doing?! They could use my help at home. I only know one person in this program. What did I get myself into?' All of these thoughts passed through my mind while boarding the plane in Salt Lake City on the second of three flights to Clovis. Leaving that summer opened many doors into the dairy industry for me. It reassured me that I could stand on my own two feet in a place where I knew no one; that sure came in handy later when I moved to Indiana. And Grandpa? He was always sad to see me leave. It broke my heart everytime. And everytime he would say, "I'll be waiting for you. Good bye!'

It's hard to describe exactly what growing up on a farm does to you. Between the new show calves that have yet to grasp the concept of walking on a halter and the frustration caused by equipment breaking as you are trying to beat the rain because you've got hay down in the field, something happens. Something special. And it definitely doesn't feel special at the time. At the end of the day, it's building perserverance. It's building grit. And it's building character.

It's also building tight-knit families and communities.

I never could imagine what life would be like without the farm or without my grandparents. Then Grandpa passed away at 93 and I fell apart. And in February, we lost Granny. I haven't really talked about it. I haven't known how. Even as a writer, I couldn't find the right words. They were the backbone of our farm and of our family. They shaped us into the people we are today and gave us the best gift of all: a love of farming.

As farmers, we talk about the number of generations involved on the farm. It's something to take pride in. Passing it to the next generation can create challenges, but it's the perserverance, grit and character that keeps each generation going. Milk prices are terrible. Many farms are struggling. And yet, they can't quit. I hear ya. Once it's in your blood, it feels like losing yourself to lose the farm. Fortunately, we didn't.

Before I was old enough to remember any memories, I was riding on the tractor with Grandpa, grocery shopping with Granny and tagging along on random adventures. Before long, it was ingrained in me. I'm beyond thankful to be involved in the dairy industry.

June is National Dairy Month. It's a time to celebrate the dairy community, our cows and the amazing product produced by an industry that creates so many jobs on and off the farm and impacts the community in a big way.

For me, June Dairy Month is a time to reflect back on what brought me to where I am today. It was my Grandpa. My 4-H leaders. My family. Our dairy community. Our farm. It truly takes a village, especially to raise a 4-H kid. And for that, I'm truly grateful.

My Grandpa's legacy is something I strive to carry on each day. It drives my work, my passion for dairy and the kind of person I am. So many families in the dairy industry could say the exact same thing. And that's also part of what makes this community more of a family.