158 / 365 – Connected to the Land

TOM TILLARY

People talk about farming as if it’s some mystical connection to the land. They think if they talk like an Indian about the land being holy they’ll feel more fulfilled about life, or more connected to something that isn’t there. Usually you hear that kind of stuff from people who have never farmed.

I grew up doing it. Our family — my father and his father and his wife’s father before him, going way back — we did it the conservative way. It’s why our family never lost our land, why we still have it all today, ten sections of it. When everyone was getting busted out during the Depression, during the big drought, we were ready to buy. You don’t get 10 sections during a boom. You buy it with what you’ve saved during a down time. I used to hear that all the time growing up, how we did it the slow way, the careful way. Not borrowing what we didn’t know we’d have. I’d think about that, getting up before dawn with chores, working all summer while the kids who grew up in town played, went down to the city pool. I’d think, what are we doing it for? Why kill yourself for a farm — so you can work harder? I just wanted to get away. And I finally did. Went two states over, to Wisconsin, to go to school. Studied engineering, got into business. That was insurance against having to be on a farm. I was far enough away but still close if I needed to be. I thought it was far enough I wouldn’t have to come all the way back. I almost made it. I’m still not sure it was the right thing to come back.

But I look at it now, it’s not so bad. I still have the land. Some of it belongs to my brothers and my sister, but most of it is mine because I’m the one who came back. I haven’t had to work it myself — I can hire out for that. And when the factory is sold or it closes or I decide to retire, this will be like a big bank account. I could probably retire right now, sell the house and go to Florida or somewhere and live off what the rent on the farm makes. I’ll be sitting in the sun with a beer in my hand, enjoying the afternoon, while the people here, most of my neighbors are still working their fingers to the bone and still not making a living at it.

It’s not a romantic life. You work hard. Most people don’t want to work that hard anymore. Who would choose it? You’re always working, or you’re fixing something. It’s not about the land, it’s about managing and timing everything, the seed, the sprays, the harvest, the equipment. Knowing the timing. I was never that good at all that, which is why I’m lucky that I can just rent it out. I don’t need much income from it while I’m running the plant. I don’t envy Ben Karlstad, working the fields day after day. He doesn’t seem to mind. Maybe it takes a different kind of man than I am. What I know it doesn’t take is some dropout time that wants to grow plants more naturally, whatever that means — nothing grows up here but grass — and live like an Indian and be close to the Earth. You don’t see any Indians around here living like that. Go up to Turtle Mountain and they’re all farmers. I guess that kind of talk just gets me worked up. People have no idea what they’re talking about.

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