Farm Families Still Work Together

Back in the day, families worked together and usually had a hired man or two, and the wives would prepare a big noon meal for everyone - sometimes even trying to outdo each other with the best pies and dishes.

Published on: Oct 31, 2011

During harvest this fall, we had Sunday lunch with a handful of friends, including both a widow lady in her late 80s and a couple in their early 90s.

The couple is about to celebrate 72 years of marriage. Seriously.

But I digress, already. In the course of conversation, the older gentleman told my 6-year-old that he'd heard from his grandpa that "Nathan likes the tractors." That prompted a handful of stories of how the gentleman used to pick corn by hand as a young man, sometimes harvesting as much as 90 or 100 bushels a day. He told how they used to pile it in wagons, and then they had to shovel it up and into the corn crib.

FAMILY AFFAIR: Three generations and a neighbor, all gathered round the tailgate for a supper in the field.
FAMILY AFFAIR: Three generations and a neighbor, all gathered 'round the tailgate for a supper in the field.

Nathan tried hard to process it all, but honestly didn't have a frame of reference for most of it. He finally piped up, "I can dump the semi!"

We had a good laugh and then the ladies began telling how, back in the day, everyone helped with harvest. Families worked together and usually had a hired man or two, and the wives would prepare a big noon meal for everyone – sometimes even trying to outdo each other with the best pies and dishes.

I listened to them talk and began to internally lament.

FRIENDLY PASSENGER: A happy rider, despite the rough highways of Illinois.
FRIENDLY PASSENGER: A happy rider, despite the rough highways of Illinois.

Agriculture has changed. My kids don't go to the field and pick corn and help the adults. They don't have that opportunity anymore. Mostly because we don't do it by hand any longer. Equipment is big and they need to be safe. As a farm kid of the '80s, I know nothing if not the farm kid safety mantra. I guess it's better they're not out there.

CB perspective

A day or two later, my husband told me about a conversation he'd heard on the CB earlier in the fall, when I was hauling grain with our three-year-old, Caroline. There was road construction on the stretch of highway where we were traveling between the field and the grain bins, and we passed through it a dozen or so times that day. At one point, there were a couple semis parked along the road, hauling out dirt. John overheard the following on the CB:

GRANDPAS BUDDY: And, he shares his Snickers stash.
GRANDPA'S BUDDY: And, he shares his Snickers stash.

"Here's comes your farmer's wife and farmer's daughter."

"Well, hat's off to her for doing that."

"They sure are lucky to work with their family like that."

"I worked for this farmer once and I thought it was really neat how their whole family got to work together. They spent a lot of time together. They didn't know how lucky they were."

Well. I started to re-think my lament.

During the day I trucked and the road crew spotted us, Caroline road along beside me, safely belted in her car seat. We chatted and joked and talked all day. She napped there in the afternoon. She broke up the day by taking a couple rounds with Grandpa in the combine.

Nathan spent many of his Saturdays this fall riding along with John. By the end of the first day, he could turn on the pit, open up the hopper bottom, dump the trailer and shut off the pit. Granted, he had to dangle all 56 pounds of himself on the crank to get hopper gear going, but by golly, he did it. And John was careful to make sure he was safe. Always.

And more than once after school, the kids both went straight from the bus to the tractor and auger wagon/combine/semis, as we harvested near our house. Eight-year-old Jenna commenced to riding and talking up "Mr. Jerry," our farm employee. I don't know who had a better time.

Photographic proof

Then I came across a photo of us all taking a meal together in the field.

Working and eating together were my father-in-law, my mother-in-law, our nephew, our neighbor/employee, and two of our three kids. I was behind the camera, John was running the combine, and Caroline was asleep in her infant carrier.

The photo does, indeed, look like a family affair. Because it is.

Families worked together in days gone by, and they do today, too. I don't drive a semi every day, but I get in there when I can. The kids don't work all day long, but they go when they can. And at the end of the day, we don't necessarily compete with pies, but we all take a meal together.

That's pretty hard to beat.

Comments? Email hspangler@farmprogress.com.