The Planted Row: Spitting into the eye of fate

Stan Wise

by Stan Wise
Farm Forum Editor

Two weeks ago, my wife, kids and I made the long drive south back to my family’s farm in Mississippi for Thanksgiving.

I think every farm kid will know what I mean when I say that one of the best things a farm can offer someone is the unshakeable feeling that there is a single place on this entire planet that we can call “home.”

A farm can raise crops and livestock, but it also raises something else. It raises people.

Whatever sweat equity I put into the place when I was younger has long since expired. I’ve been gone too long. So, I don’t have a claim on that land. It has a claim on me. In a way, it’s the same claim that my parents have on me. I am their kid. I am the farm’s kid. Why? Because just like my parents raised me, that farm raised me.

And just like I know my parents, I know that patch of ground. I think I could walk the whole place with my eyes closed and never trip.

I took my 10-year-old daughter on a tour. She loved seeing cotton in the field and learning how it is turned into fiber for her clothes. She loved it when I showed her the ruins of the previous farm buildings that were overgrown long before I was born. She enjoyed walking through the fields I once sweated in. Later, as we walked the pasture under starlight, she paid close attention to the constellations in the same place where I first learned to name them.

The whole time we were walking, I couldn’t help but notice all the changes that have happened since I left 14 years ago. I could see the places where improvements need to be made, as well. That’s because a farm raises its best stewards. Unfortunately, like me, those stewards aren’t always able to remain on the farm.

Our family’s farm is profitable, for now, but it isn’t large enough to support the newest equipment, the latest advances in farm techniques. Eventually, when my father and uncle grow too old maintain the farm’s productivity, the land will likely be worked by people who don’t know it or its history.

I know, as my father’s only son, that it is my place to return home and keep the farm in the family. But that won’t happen. I’m letting the family and the farm down because it doesn’t make financial sense for me to move my wife and kids back home and take it over. Even though I can hear the ghost of my grandfather begging me to return and put to use all the things he taught me.

And just like that, our farm will stop raising people. It will become a piece of rented ground worked by a much larger operation. And our family will no longer be a farming family.

But until that happens, my dad is going to do his best to make the farm like it used to be. Until the last, he’s going to make sure that home is always home.

Last weekend, he sent me the following message:

“Today, I brought a red cotton picker back to the farm. I will never forget that deep sadness reflected in your face as you sat in the cab of our old IH 616 cotton picker at the forced farm sale in 1985. I can’t tell you how good it felt this afternoon to drive that old 782 down Highway 346 and into the farm equipment yard. I feel like we just spat into the eye of fate.”

And I suppose that’s what every farmer who plants another crop does — spit into the eye of fate and hope everything works out.

Who knows? Maybe it will.