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Farm Babe: When natural disaster strikes the heritage family farm

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Tornados are the kinds of things in which you think, “That could never happen to me.”

But last week, on Wednesday, July 19, tornadoes ripped across southwest Wisconsin and northeast Iowa, destroying local businesses, farms, and homes. My boyfriend and I live and farm together, but we weren’t home when the tornado hit. We came home to find uprooted trees, downed sheds, and cattle buildings that had been ripped apart. After walking all the buildings, we found damage on all of them, but fortunately all the livestock and pets were OK.

We are fortunate. We are good; the animals are good; home is good. But many other people in our area can not say that. While we do have some crop damages, other farmers just to the west of us have cornfields that are snapped off and completely flat. That’s a lot of time, money, energy, and food down the drain. We had to wait for quite a while to get the plumbing, water, and electric up and running again, which was stressful for the cattle, but we figured it out.

When Mother Nature flexes her muscles and shows folks who’s boss, look out. It will take us a while to clean up and rebuild. The insurance adjuster will be out next week, so we shall see what happens. It often times feels like it was all a dream, but material things can be replaced, and it’s amazing to see rural communities come together in time of need. Friends and family showed up and did their part with cleanup and support.

But it was here where it hit me. My boyfriend, Doug, is a sixth-generation family farmer, and one of the folks who helped us clean up is his great uncle, Dick Thompson. Despite being almost 78 years old, Dick still finds joy in a hard day’s work. He still helps us with planting and harvest.

Image by Michelle Miller

“I helped put the metal roof on this shed when I was about 8 or 10 years old,” he said as he helped us pick up the pieces of his old farm. Doug bought the acreage from him about eight years ago. Dick moved here in 1942 when he was just 3 years old, and Doug’s grandfather was born in this house.

As I listened to Dick reminisce on his childhood memories on the farm, I had to snap this photo:

Image by Michelle Miller

I think it tells a story — a story of dedication on the farm.

You see, for farmers, farming isn’t just a job. It’s a way of life, it’s family history, heritage, and memories. I don’t think there’s any bond more special than that of the family farmer. When three generations of people who care can come together in a time of need. Whether you’re 8 years old or 80, it doesn’t matter. Family farming instills a work ethic within you to get the job done.

Although I didn’t grow up in this family, they’re like family to me since Doug and I have been together for almost five years. I am honored to be a part of this legacy — several years ago, the family even received plaques and recognition for being a heritage farm. To be a heritage farm it has to be farmed by the same family for at least 150 years. The land was homesteaded by his ancestors in the mid 1800s when they arrived from Scotland.

Doug and I don’t have children, and time will tell what happens in the future, but after having a long talk with Dick, I told him I will one day do my darnedest to keep it in the Thompson family for the seventh generation and beyond for the sake of the family legacy.

Hopefully we will start rebuilding soon. We lost a few sheds, doors, roofs, and trees. But that doesn’t mean that anything is “lost” in the memories of the history of the family farm. Just like with us as humans in life, every scar tells a story. Every hardship in life makes us who we are today. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. And every up and down in life makes the bond within the family farm that much stronger.

 

Michelle Miller, the Farm Babe, is an Iowa-based farmer, public speaker and writer, who lives and works with her boyfriend on their farm which consists of row crops, beef cattle, and sheep. She believes education is key in bridging the gap between farmers and consumers.

Any views or opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect those of AGDAILY. Comments on this article reflect the sole opinions of their writers.