A Long Road to the Farm

OK so it turns out that I’m not very good at blogging. I have a hard time finding inspiration, and I don’t post new content very often. But it is currently farrowing season, and soon it will be show season, so keep your eyes open for more posts coming in the next few months!

In the meantime, I was inspired by a post from Gracie Weinzierl, writer of the blog A Farm Kid’s Guide to Agriculture, to go a little more in depth about how I ended up here on the farm. Today she shared a post encouraging kids to leave the farm. Not forever, of course, but long enough to travel and learn and gain new experiences.

It really got me thinking about how I kind of did that accidentally.

Family and friends who know me well would have never- and I mean NEVER- expected me to end up living and working in the agriculture industry. Growing up, I was always little Gracey who didn’t want to play outside, but would rather stay inside and play dress up and make crafts. My brother and sister were the complete opposite. They loved the outdoors. They would climb in the hay loft, hang from tree branches, and go help our Grandpa out at the Compost Site. Not me. I was perfectly content doing inside things.

So it really doesn’t surprise me that my family members still can’t quite picture me stomping around in my boots and playing with pigs. To be honest, I still have a hard time picturing it myself!

Anyway, let’s get back to how I got where I am today.

I grew up in a farming family. My parents both worked off the farm, so I was technically a generation removed, but I spent some time riding in the tractor with Grandpa, and every so often my siblings and I would take some lawn chairs down to the bin site and watch the guys load and unload grain. I was no stranger to the farm, but I never really wanted all that much to do with it.

When I was in high school, I took a few Ag classes and signed up for FFA. But my true love was art. It always had been. By junior year I had my mind made up that I would be going to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago to study Fine Art, and eventually fulfill my dream of becoming an Art Therapist. I didn’t actually think it was possible, and I loathed the thought of moving to the city, but by the middle of my senior year I had received my acceptance letter and I was all signed up for classes.

I moved into my 15th story apartment in downtown Chicago the next fall, and it only took me about a week to realize I had made a huge mistake. My classes were awesome, and it was so cool to be able to say I went to school at the actual Art Institute museum, but it just didn’t feel right. I was surrounded by cars and people and sirens and trains. I wanted to be back on my quiet gravel road, surrounded by nothing but cornfields.

I think a major turning point for me was on a random night while I was making a hamburger in my small apartment kitchen.

“Wait, those burgers are from your own cows?!” I couldn’t figure out why my roommate was so surprised. Of course they were from our own cows. That was why Grandpa and dad raised cattle- to put meat in our freezer. Where else would it come from?

That night it really dawned on me just how removed from agriculture people can be. Though it sounded like a silly question to me, my roommate was genuinely surprised. Growing up in the suburbs meant her family didn’t just happen to raise livestock like mine did. They likely purchased all of their meat from the grocery store. In that moment, I found myself feeling proud of the knowledge and experiences I had gained on the farm.

I went ahead and finished out the school year in Chicago, but was ecstatic to move home in May. But even though I had my little “light bulb” moment, I wasn’t headed for the farm just yet. I planned to enroll in the local community college to get a general Associate’s Degree, and take it from there.

A summer working in the bean fields for Pioneer finally sent me in the right direction. I was suddenly really taking an interest in this life I had been living all along. I took another leap of faith and switched schools yet again, this time enrolling at Black Hawk East, a community college close by with a good Ag program.

Boy, oh boy, was I in for a surprise.

It wasn’t just a good Ag program.

It was a GREAT Ag program.

I felt so out of place on that first day in my blue top, skinny jeans, and red flats (yes, I remember exactly what I was wearing- my two best friends will never let me forget, as they were certain I had walked into the wrong classroom). Kids came from out of state to be in the BHE Ag program. I was just there because it was Blackhawk. I mean, that’s where all the farm kids from my high school went. It didn’t really seem all that special to me.

But BHE offered me so many opportunities I could have never imagined. From Animal Science labs where I learned to castrate bull calves and trim sheep hooves, to an internship that helped me discover my love for Farm Bureau, and everything in between, Blackhawk was more than I could have ever hoped for. I was given the opportunity to jump head first into learning about agribusiness and economics, crops and soils, livestock, welding, and more. I walked into Blackhawk wanting to get school over with, take my degree, and find a job. I never expected that such a small school would help me discover my true passion in life.

Everything after Blackhawk just seemed to fall right into place. I accepted a part time job with AgView FS, and soon took on another job as my county’s Ag in the Classroom Coordinator. I joined Young Leaders and became more active with the Bureau County Farm Bureau. And of course, I met William, who has inspired and encouraged my love for animals. Each new opportunity has offered me the chance to learn and grow as a leader, an advocate, and yes, even a farmer.

The title of Gracie’s blog post was “Don’t Waste Your Time Sticking Around the Farm.” And I must say, I agree. Whether you know for sure that you are coming back home to farm, or you’re like me and sort of stumble upon it, I highly encourage you to take each and every learning experience you can get.

Who knows! You may even end up like me: an art-kid-turned-farmer who now proudly photographs all of her animals. (Things have a funny way of working out, don’t they?)

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