Farming as a work of art

Farm Forum

As I watched Ben Victor in his sculpting studio at Northern State University, I admired how he could take a small bit of clay and work it into a larger than life statue. Ben was working on the 7-foot-tall statue of Cecil Harris, an aviator originally from Cresbard.

The image of Ben’s fingers working that clay stayed with me as I’ve worked on stories this week. On its own, a bit of clay is not a piece of art. But when in the hands of a talented individual, that bit of seemingly meaningless substance can add up to the foundation of monuments. As Ben’s fingers place those pieces of clay and push them together around a form, an image emerges. As the underpinning is laid, it’s up to Ben to see where a little more clay needs to be added or a little more taken away to give the best expression. It’s not just the lines in the face that are important in making a statue look right; it’s the way the clay is fashioned to drape in the many contours of the form to show life and movement.

As we break out of this year’s ice box, agriculture emerges from dormancy with farmers dedicated to working their pieces of dirt into something more for the world. Those who are grain farmers are eager to lay the foundation for this year’s crops. Some were able to put down fertilizer last winter; some will make applications this spring. As elements of spring evolve, many of those on farms could be compared to artists. By taking a bit of seed and placing it in the ground, young plants are encouraged to sprout and grow. As the growth continues, the caretakers watch over the plants, adding nutrients when needed and wiping out the weeds when they encroach on the small plants. Fields of green reward those who work the soil to bring out its potential. And in the end, the harvested crops provide food for many, both in this country and around the world.

Good weather, good prices and good yields are the parts of the perceived formula for success. Good management tools are increasingly important as prices skyrocket. And all of that is summed up in good stewardship, care and concern for the land.

Increased detail will be paid to inputs as crop prices this year are forecast to be lower. Just as Ben does with his sculpture, farmers will pause, evaluate and adjust. For Ben, he gets to the point where his clay model is finished and the piece is sent to become bronzed, able to withstand whatever venue is chosen.

In farming, nurturing of the land continues and evolves year after year. One of the subjects of Ben’s statues, Norman Borlaug, worked hard to coax better performance from the wheat fields of Mexico. It is said he relied on a farm boy’s instinctive feel for the plants and the soil in which they grew.

“When wheat is ripening properly, when the wind is blowing across the field, you can hear the beards of the wheat rubbing together,” Borlaug told biographer Lennard Bickel. “They sound like the pine needles in a forest. It is a sweet, whispering music that once you hear, you never forget.”

Borlaug was a relentless hunger fighter who taught us a great deal. Advances in technology have provided us with marvelous advances in feeding the world. Let’s continue to embrace and enjoy the many aspects of agriculture that are offered to us each and every day. As agricultural artists, we can listen to the music and feed the world.