The days are long gone when tattoos were a sign of rebellion — they’re officially part of the 21st-century mainstream. And while the occasional person may still give a dirty look toward them, that’s more a sign of the personal and emotional shortcomings of the passer-by, not of the person who got inked.
Whether little or small, tattoos often represent something deeply important to an individual. Your loved one. Your family’s heritage. Your passion, or your faith. When we get inked, we are creating a permanent reminder of something that we never want to let go of, because it has shaped who we are.
We asked farmers to send us photos of their tattoos and the stories behind them. Their responses below will move you to your core:
My Great Grandpa used to recite Reverend Paul Harvey’s 1978 “So God Made a Farmer” whenever we hit a rough patch growing up on our family dairy farm in Western Pennsylvania. This was long before Dodge ever made it popular with their Super Bowl commercial, Pap left us in 2011. Last spring we had a terrible time — we lost cows, we lost calves, we pulled most of our calves, and then we lost my favorite donkey during labor. I was left with a newborn jack foal. Every three hours I was getting up and trudging across the driveway to bottle-feed the foal. Three days later we lost the foal to tetanus — we were already scrambling to get it the help it needed but it was too late. I sat in our calf barn crying, listening to the moos and sounds of the barn. And without fail, the words of Paul Harvey, which my Pap knew by heart, sounded through my head: “God said, ‘I need somebody willing to sit up all night with a newborn colt. And watch it die. Then dry his eyes and say, “Maybe next year.”‘” I got the tattoo to remind me that its God’s will for me to be strong enough both mentally and physically to be a farmer.
I was 17 when I was involved in a deadly car crash that took the life of a young man who’s initials are in my tattoo. No drugs or alcohol were involved, and I received a head injury that prevents me from remembering any details of the accident. I was the driver. A lot of people blamed me for his death, and some still do. Hell, I even blamed myself. I went through a huge period of depression and wanted to kill myself many times because of what had happened. I also couldn’t ride my horse, one of my joys and escapes in life, for several weeks after the accident because of the possibility of reinjuring my brain. That was extremely hard for me. I got this tattoo on my rib cage because I thought it would hurt the most — I wanted to it to hurt so I would remember. It’s been almost a year now and I’m about to go back to Oregon State University to continue my animal science degree, and I just got an A in college chemistry. I still have my horse and plan on adopting another soon. I hope my story allows other people to understand that tragedy happens, and sometimes it’s no one’s fault. I also hope my story allows people to understand that they too can make it through really hard times, especially depression, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts.
This is my tattoo to represent my roots and has my family cattle brand in the center.
Trina Johnson, Maker’s Long Acres
Symbolism. Defining moments. Nearly 10 years ago, disease began altering our family’s life. I started a long stint of days and weeks in the hospital. The kiddos dealt continually with fear, wondering if Mom was even going to make it back home. It was a blurry, uncertain time. We started drawing a little symbol on our wrists. No matter how far apart we were, we could look at that drawing and know nothing was going to break us, that together (even if not physically) we were stronger. It was just three simple things: a circle, a heart, a cross. The meaning was anything but simple. The cross, to remind us that, through Christ, all things are possible. A heart to remind us of our love, of His love. And a circle, a reminder that we are held tightly from beginning to no end — encircled, protected and surrounded in that love. The tattoo idea came after an epic battle for my life that included eleven days in a critical care unit. Some of the world’s best doctors tied to piece together a plan. Unsuccessful it shifted to preparing me for the inevitable. Through it all, I could look at that hand-drawn symbol of love and hope, and peace would flood over me. To everyone’s surprise but mine I was released to travel six hours away to meet with a specialist and now come up with a plan to live! My husband and I had our little family mark permanently tattooed. The artist was so moved by our story, our miracle, he wouldn’t accept the full payment. The kids didn’t know what to think when we made it home a few days later! Ol’ Ma and Pa got tattoos?!? Oh did they want them also! They were around 10 and 7 years old at the time. We live in Idaho, on our little farm, Maker’s Long Acres, and the legal age for a tattoo is 16. We told them, “Yes, you can get it tattooed when you’re 16.” Sixteen seemed so far away and reasonable enough. Well, fast forward to a week before her sixteenth birthday and the oldest exclaims she’s researched shops and tattoo artists. Wait? What? No. Way too young. Tattoos are permanent. This isn’t washable marker. There’s risk of infection. I chuckle now because for every single motherly protest, she had facts, articles, scientific studies, and an incredibly well spoken, respectful rebuttal. The one thing she we couldn’t reasonably reduce was that my baby girl had somehow grown up. Suddenly, there before me, asking to be marked with that nearly sacred family “crest” was not my little awkward 10 year old girl, but instead an intelligent, confident young woman on the cusp of adulthood. I still don’t know how it happened, but during those long days the years were short — too short! And so, we scheduled her tattoo. When I look at them now, it takes on an even greater significance. A reminder, hold them tighter, play with them longer, listen more patiently, make more time, and pray for them often. Your birdies too soon will fly from their nests. Those little children with missing front teeth and a million questions will be replaced by incredible, mature young adults in the seconds it takes to blink. Make those connections. Make those memories. We have two more children, growing up all too quickly, and on their 16th birthdays, they too can choose if they wish to permanently place this sentiment, this sign, upon their wrists. While some tattoos can become cliche, or mark a specific time, person, or event, ours mark all those things that can’t be placed into comprehensible words. The heavens, the earth, and all the stuff in between — that stuff we call life!
The roots represent where I’ve come from. If it wasn’t for my experiences, I wouldn’t be where I am now. From a small rural town, to a big ag university, to a new job in Sacramento, California. The key represents a lot of the personal and professional development that I’ve gone through. It is definitely a nod to FFA’s Washington Leadership Conference. The tree represents Oregon. Oregon will always be my home, even if I travel all of the world and decide to live other places — Oregon is always home. The rough draft of the tattoo was actually drawn up by a buddy from my FFA chapter too!
This tattoo is not farm related, but it is related to the man who helped me start a farm. It’s from a card my dad wrote to me years ago: “I love you very much. Love Dad.” I got it on his first “heavenly” birthday. My father fought leukemia, but through it he worked. In the hospital and at home. He loved the farm and printed pictures of his cows to make his hospital room look better. He would proudly tell everyone who came in about his farm. I hope to have inherited his work ethic and passion for the farm.
Rob Sharkey, Shark Farmer
It took me 44 years to decide what I wanted to have inked on my body for the rest of my life. I chose to get the logo that represents the two businesses that I built myself from the ground up. It incorporates my deer outfitter and my Shark Farmer podcast. These two businesses help me provide for my family when farm income is leaner. It’s a good daily reminder of the importance of diversification and the entrepreneurial spirit.
I had long thought about getting a tattoo, but it wasn’t until last year, when I was diagnosed with the alpha-gal allergy that I decided to go ahead and get one. Because of my new allergy, which was the result of a tick bite, I can no longer consume beef, pork, or dairy products. I was devastated, saddened, and, at times, scared — it wasn’t always easy to tell when cross-contamination or a buried ingredient would affect me, causing rashes, shortness of breath, or weakness. It was then that I decided to do something wholly for myself — something that I could choose and take control of. My tattoo is not related to farming, but it is personally significant. For more than a decade, I have volunteered doing wilderness search and rescue in my state, and my tattoo represents that part of my life and my love of the outdoors. It has given me direction. And it’s a passion — one that I wear proudly.
On my wrist, I have the word “Hallelujah” — a simple reminder that every breath is a chance for a “hallelujah.” Our circumstances (big and small) are temporary, and faith in Jesus is what matters most. On my foot, I have the words “Imagine Moving Forward.” This is the slogan for the International Myeloma Foundation; my Dad fought and passed away from Multiple Myeloma, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow. This is to honor his life and is a reminder that life is best lived moving forward with hope.
“And on the Eighth Day, God looked down on his planned paradise and said, ‘I need a caretaker.’ So God made a farmer.” This speech has stuck with me since the first time I heard it. Growing up on my family’s dairy, beef, and hog farm has taught me the meaning of hard work and dedication as well as growing my love for the ag industry. There’s no place that I’d rather be than on the farm with my family and our livestock. I’m extremely blessed to have grown up in this wonderful industry. This tattoo represents where my heart and soul is. I’m so thankful for all the farmers that have made a difference in my life and for others.