Wednesday, July 3, 2013


One of our friends who raises strawberries and beef cattle mentioned that farming is more a life style choice than a livelihood. I think it’s also a culture and as such, has its own peculiarities.

It is a culture of appreciation for new lambs in the spring, for fences stretched taut and gates that are sound, and for fresh hay drying in the field under a cloudless sky. It is a culture of hope against the odds. If you cut too early, the alfalfa has a lot of water in it and dries too slowly and doesn’t come back as well. If you cut too late, the thistles in the fields are beginning to go to seed. If you cut at just the right time, it will still might rain or the machinery might break down. It is a culture of hard work. Each bale of hay weighs 50 pounds and we lift it at least three times to get it stacked in the barn.

Baling is always an interesting time of year.

Dave struggles to make sure that the machinery works – it’s old machinery.
He struggles to find helpers – we have several young friends in the Somali community in town and they round up three or four junior or senior high friends to help. But it is hard to depend on workers whose first language is not English and who have never done farm work before.
I struggle with cultural differences. When I work with Somali boys and men, they persist in trying to snatch every bale from the baler and stack it, leaving me with no job. I know that they think they are protecting me, but I don’t find it charming; I find it a pain in the neck. It is exhausting to build a load on a wagon by yourself. I want these guys to keep working for three or four wagon loads a day. I don’t want them exhausted too soon. The Somalis also have to learn to take orders from a woman. Until we get to know each other they tend to listen politely to what I tell them and then to continue doing things in their own way. If we were working in Somalia, in their hayfield, that would make sense. But we’re working in Minnesota in my hay field and I know what I’m talking about. They have to learn to follow my direction if they want to be invited back to help with baling next month. Of course, just like some of our American employees, they may not want to help bale the next crop of hay. We’ve had American kids and Somali kids work a few hours and suddenly remember they had other pressing previous commitments. We’ve had Somali kids and American kids work hour after hour, day after day, trying to learn what we’re teaching and working as hard as they can to get it right.

This summer, we have a young Somali man who comes to the farm to help after his college classes and his work study job are done and if his wife doesn’t need help with their children. Although he still has trouble letting me pick up a bale, he loves working on the farm.

Farming is indeed a lifestyle choice, a culture of sorts.

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