Farmer Diary: Education expensive? Try ignorance

Farm Forum

Editor’s note: Farm Forum contributor John Papendick is spending his summer helping on the family farm in Faulk County. He is writing about his adventures in a series of columns.

I am no farmer, but I have been playing one this summer.

In fact, I am thinking about creating a fantasy farm league. After all, remember when I “bought” a farm and everything I would need for it in a series of stories that I did at the 2009 Brown County Fair?

In the end, I was ready to spend about $4.86 million for my fantasy farm. The trouble was, all I got was laughter from my banker friends when I went to borrow the imaginary money for my imaginary farm.

Readers also got their laughs as I started to be called “farmer John” wherever I went for the months that followed.

This summer, life has come full circle for me.

I grew up on a farm in McCook County. Now, I am helping run — ha, I mean working on — a farm in Faulk County.

When I got done with my first stint as a farmer, my dad sat my 18-year-old butt down for a serious talk because he was ready to retire.

Dad: “You don’t want to farm, do you son?”

Me: “No, Dad.”

Dad: “Good, because don’t take this the wrong way, but you wouldn’t make it.”

Neighbors ended up buying our farm at auction. For the last couple of months, I have found myself back helping on my wife’s family farm.

Don’t worry. I am in good hands. I have farming relatives and their helpers who are guiding me.

So, I am getting plenty of solid direction from experienced farmers. And those farmers are getting plenty of laughter from watching me try to help.

In the beginning, I would break their equipment by day, and run parts for them at night during my 70-mile trips between the farm and Aberdeen.

It is a pretty good gig if you can get it. It really wasn’t that bad, but we certainly have gotten a lot of mileage and laughter about it.

While doing so, I was exposed to the price of parts. In case you hadn’t heard, they cost more than they did in the 1960s and ’70s.

I was signing for hundreds of dollars of parts (only a few were my fault). Talk about an expensive education.

During my first crack at farming, I remember getting a lot of instructions from my dad. Those instructions continued on the farm this summer.

And for good reason in both cases. Rookies always need a lot of instructions thrown their way.

It doesn’t matter if you are talking football, farming or journalism.

You start at the bottom and work your way up. I am still at the bottom and it is a long way up.

Plus, my mentors are busy. They don’t have time to show me everything. They have real farming to do.

But, as I hopefully progress from a seedling (just add water, instructions and a few choice swear words to prompt my growth), I plan to share some of my adventures on the farm in a series during the next few weeks.

I hope you enjoy them, and that I don’t break any of your equipment along the way.

Longtime South Dakota journalist John Papendick is a freelance writer, public speaker and seeker of new life experiences. Email