Farmers have never been afraid to step up to the plate. In the early days of settlement on the Plains, farmers served their communities as members of a Home Guard unit, as veterinarians and post office attendants, and their wives were school teachers and midwives. With scant populations in rural areas spread across miles and miles, farmers had to be competent at all kinds of jobs like maintaining roads, plowing snow, building bridges, waterways and community structures like churches, schools and businesses.
There were no government programs to get the jobs done. Farmers worked together and took on the responsibilities at hand.
In my community, retired farmers and their farming sons worked together to spearhead the development and construction of Lakeview Golf Course on the shores of Lewis and Clark Lake, renowned as one of the toughest, but most beautiful courses in the state. They worked together with community club members to build a gazebo and bandstand in the city park.
Farmers pour concrete for church parking lots and school basketball courts. They plant trees and weed community gardens. They bring equipment to town to mow cemeteries in the summer and push snow from gravesites at the cemetery and to clear roads in emergencies in the winter.
These activities are traditions of rural life. In those early days, they were even called in to help with the construction of railroads. My great-grandfather and his team of horses worked beside his neighbors and friends, building a grade for a new railroad proposed for the area. They were paid $1 a day or $1.50 if they brought their horses with them. It was hard, back-breaking work. The cottonwood trees where great-grandpa took his lunch while working on the railroad still stand. However, only the old railroad grade remains, because the railroad went belly-up before a train ever crossed the grade they worked so hard to build.
Today is no different. Farmers and their families serve agricultural organizations, commodity groups and grower associations. They involve themselves in developing farm policy and legislation.
Farmers serve county and township boards and committees. They serve on church councils, school boards and chambers of commerce. They work pie and soup luncheon fundraisers, head up school booster clubs and coach softball and little league. Farm families are an integral part of a rural community’s economic and social life.
In a single day, a farmer might work his fields and livestock, coach an hour of basketball after school and participate in a church service or council meeting in the evening. As our small towns get smaller and the farm population shrinks, mastery at wearing many hats at the same time gains importance.
While the jobs at hand in rural areas are somewhat daunting, and you can tire just thinking of all the volunteer hours that are needed to maintain and enhance rural quality of life, most farmers shrug it off and complain very little.
We know that it is all part of living where we live. We take pride in being self-reliant. We also know that there is no better place to live than on a farm and near a rural community. There are challenges, but most days, we wouldn’t trade our lifestyle for the world.
Next time, we’ll talk about the challenges of wearing so many hats. Watch for Part 2.