As many of you may or may not know, I was born and raised on a farm in eastern Iowa not far from the Mississippi River. I’ve always viewed it as the perfect place for a kid to grow up.
I learned to drive a tractor when I was 12, cleaned manure out of livestock barns, scooped grain until my back ached, lifted 50-pound feed bags, fed chickens, pigs, and cattle.
As a young person who has put up hay, I also helped my dad in the farrowing house as well as helped with the home butchering of chickens, hogs and cattle. I’ve built and mended fences, vaccinated cattle and hogs…and yes, I have even helped castrate pigs.
Summer was a time also to help mom harvesting and canning all the produce our garden produced from our two acre-garden. We didn’t buy much food from the grocery store because we produced it. Heck, I didn’t know what store-bought bread was until I went to college. Mom made homemade bread every Saturday morning.
Of course it wasn’t summer on the farm without a job of detasseling corn – the best and the worst job for a farm kid. Detasseling corn is removing the immature pollen-producing bodies (the tassel) from the tops of the corn plants and placing them on the ground. It was a form of pollination control, used to hybridize two corn varieties. It was back breaking work for a teenager during the hottest and most humid month of the year – July. At the time, it also paid a great wage – 75 cents an hour (not much compared to today’s standard). But it was a job where we worked side-by-side with other area farm kids.
When I applied for my first “real” job that paid minimum wage at a local nursing home, they noticed I was raised on a farm. The director of nursing said, “I guess I don’t have ask if you’re a good worker.” Farm kids, she said, knew how to work from the day they came out of their mother’s womb.
She said if you can handle a paint brush, spade a garden, pull worms from tomato plants, gather hen eggs, mow grass, groom animals and take a grain of wheat, bite down on it and determine it’s time to combine – you’re the kind of person we’ll hire.
I was reminded of those experiences when I recently talked to Dawn Weaver about the summers she spent on the ranch with her grandparents.
The hardships of ranching in New Mexico are not that much different than farming in Iowa.
You’ve experience drought – we have too. You experienced low livestock prices – we have too. We put off purchasing new machinery because market prices fluctuated up and down, ranchers in New Mexico – experienced that too. You bought second hand equipment or welded something back together to make it last longer – Iowa farmers did that, too. Plus…farm and ranch kids work the land beside generations of their elders … and that’s a good thing.
Just like many ranchers here, Iowa farmers worked second jobs just to hang on to their beloved land. When a tornado devastated our farm, my mother worked the graveyard shift in a local Catholic nursing home as a nurse. When the Farm crisis in the 1980s hit, the nursing home administrator, Sister Catherine, graciously offered my father a job as a groundkeeper and transportation director. With their help we were able to save our family farm for future generations.
So while our agricultural landscapes may be different, our fight to keep our land is not.
Farmers and ranchers in New Mexico are just as dedicated to their land and livestock as their counterparts in Iowa. It’s our love of the land that binds us together.