I come from North Dakota, and like the majority of people that come from North Dakota, I’m only one generation removed from the farm.
My mother grew up on the farm, and my grandparents still live there. All of my aunts and uncles on that side of the family live within 30 miles of the farm. The farm is our family’s center. It is where most things start. My grandparents are the only ones that live at the farm now. But at least once a year at Christmas the population at the farm spikes significantly as dozens of people return to celebrate the holiday.
The farm is in northwest North Dakota. A dozen miles north and you would be in Canada, but the accents remind you that you are not. This is the world of wheat and barley. The land is sectioned in crop lines with the occasional lone oil well dotting the horizon. Trees are planted in rows to keep the wind from stealing the topsoil. Lakes and rivers are very rare. There is a flatness to the land that is as awe inspiring as the jagged peaks of the mountains. To see this land in winter is to witness nature’s stern character, and in summer to see the bounty of the earth.
When I was a kid, I would vacation at the farm during summer break. It was an amazing world. I would play with my cousins for hours in the haystacks while the grown-ups were working in the fields. I learned to drive in a pickup out in the field. We would go into town to sit at the café and my grandpa would have coffee and conversation, while I had a malted. It was, at least for a kid, a vibrant community with interesting characters, filled with strong belly laughs.
When I return now, some twenty-five years later, the farm is pretty much the same. That’s good. You want your center to remain consistent. But the world around it and many, many other farms have changed a lot. Just driving the dirt road that goes in front of the farm you see several ghosts of farms that were.
Every year in America a lot of people that still live and work on farms aren’t able to make it anymore. With each generational transition only a few farms remain in the family. The “family farm” is quickly becoming something you will only find in textbooks, working examples of the tradition will simply be gone or relegated to historical attractions.
I realize that times move on. The economy is different. People around the world farm and send their product here. It is a global industry with giant corporations. Those that do farm can do it with more efficiency so there is less need for things as quant and romantic as the family farm. Plus, it’s hard work. The family on a family farm works from dawn till dusk. It is a risky occupation, both financially and physically. This is work done in the open sun, with sweat.
Whenever I return to the farm I savor the time. Personally I savor it because it’s time spent with people I love and respect. My grandpa no longer works the fields, not for lack of will but instead lack of youth. My grandmother is the pillar, the foundation, of everything that happens on the farm.
I savor it as well because I’m watching the last half of a great film. I will return to this area throughout my life, if only to see what has happened. In the twenty-five years I’ve been coming here it’s changed an amazing amount, more than any city I’ve visited. It isn’t a film of prosperity and growth, but instead the opposite. And with the conclusion of the story an entire way of life will be forever lost in this country, and that is something that I think we should stop and take a moment to honor.