We had a lot of rain yesterday, almost 3 inches, which is just about unheard of this time of year around here. And today it is cold, damp, and windy—one of those days when you’d rather sit inside near the fireplace, drink a cup of coffee, and read a book. But the pigs needed to be fed and watered, and the cattle moved to a new pasture, so I bundled up and headed outside.
The pigs are in the woods in the far corner of the property, down a long, muddy lane, some of which is under water. So I put a few buckets of water and feed in the loader of the tractor and headed out. The tractor doesn’t much care what it has to drive through, and I made it back to the woods just fine. The pigs were happy to see me, and I filled up their water trough with fresh, clean water, and put some new feed in their feeder. Because it is getting colder outside, they are growing thick coats of hair for the winter.
Then I drove back to the pasture where the cows are. They are making one last circuit of our pasture system, eating the last green grass of the year. In a week or two, they will be up on the feedlot by the barn, eating dry hay instead of fresh green grass, but staying out of the mud and wind until the grass grows again next spring.
As I was driving across the muddy pasture, with the cold wind blowing and the cattle following closely because they’ve learned the routine that leads them to a fresh pasture with new grass, I only had one thought in my mind:
I love this.
I love this. I am so blessed. There is no other job that I’d rather do, no matter what the weather is. To see the animals thrive, to see the land restored, to feed our friends and neighbors with truly good, healthful food—there’s nothing better. And because this is the farm I grew up on, there is a familiarity and a connection with family, those here and those that have gone before, that can exist in no other place. In some sense, I’m as much a product of this land as the crops and animals we grow. It is here that I was formed and nurtured, and anything I’ve been able to accomplish in my life in some way traces back to this land.
There is a company that wants to buy this land. In fact, they are trying to buy about 4500 acres of land in our neighborhood. They won’t say what they want to do with all that land, which doesn’t really breed trust in their motives. But it’s a pretty good guess they aren’t interested in the health of the soil, or how it can be used to sustainably provide food for local people.
I haven’t really talked to them much, because my land is not for sale. To me, this land is literally priceless. There is no price with which I would be satisfied. I’m sure the people who want to buy it can’t understand the economics of that statement. To them, land is a commodity to be bought and sold as if an acre of my land equaled the value of the neighbor’s land.
I don’t know what will ultimately happen to all this farmland around me. I’m sure some folks are glad to have the opportunity to sell their land and perhaps buy a larger farm further out in the country. For them it is an opportunity to step up and enlarge their farming operation. I don’t begrudge them this opportunity. Some have even invested in land around here in anticipation of this. You can often tell who they are—knowing there is no long-term agricultural use for the land, they plant soybeans year after year because it is one of the cheapest crops to plant. They don’t care that this mono-cropping depletes the soil of important minerals and nutrients, throwing its biological diversity out of balance, eventually making it worthless for the production of healthful food. I suppose I can’t begrudge them either—for them land is simply an investment vehicle that will provide a short-term economic return.
But then, there are a few like me. They know there is something sacred about the ground we walk on. They know it takes years of careful management to build up truly good land, but only a short while to destroy it all. They know that land is more than just a means of production, that it also connects us to our heritage and to our future.
I don’t know what will happen to folks like us. Perhaps the company will buy up the ground all around us, and not seeing a fit for a verdant, pastoral farm like ours in their plans, will try to mis-use eminent domain laws to forcibly take our land. I don’t know.
But I do know this: I will be especially thankful this season for what we have. I’ll be thankful when I’m out in the mud and the wind and the snow this winter. I’ll be thankful during the spring lush, when the cows kick their heels on their first day out on the pasture. I’ll be thankful during the long days of summer, when animals and crops are growing healthily. I’ll be thankful next fall for a bountiful harvest. And as long as God gives me the ability, I will work to improve the health and tilth of this land, treating it with the respect that it so richly deserves.