My brother Don, the farmer, died last Sunday morning—in his home on the family farm. He was born on the farm, lived his whole life on the farm, and died on the farm—the same farm. I have just returned from attending his memorial services. This meant a trip to some of the places where I grew up in southwest Missouri. His burial was in the cemetery at Eureka Church, a small country church that my family attended while I was growing up. I completed grade school in the two-room schoolhouse that once stood near the cemetery. There were five kids in our family, three boys and two girls. Our older sister died in her early 30s. Don was in his early 20s when he took over the home farm after the death of my Dad. The rest of us all had other things we wanted to do with our lives. Don never wanted to do anything other than be a family farmer. He succeeded, both as a dedicated family man and as a farmer.
I was always proud of Don. He was actually able to do the things I wrote and talked about as the challenges and opportunities for small family farmers. I knew it was possible to have a good life on a small farm because he was doing it. I knew him and I knew the farm—personally. The farm was about 200 acres in total. Only about half of that was cropland, which he eventually transitioned into pasture for rotational grazing. The rest was timbered hill sides. It had been a dairy farm since the 1950s. He had once tried to feed and milk something close to 100 cows, but eventually concluded he could do better milking less than 50 on grass. Don knew that cows were simply a means of turning sunshine and grass into a marketable commodity. He also knew that family farming is more than a way to make a living; it’s a way to make a life. He lived and died on the farm that he loved with the people he loved. Who could ask for more from life?
I won’t attempt to tell any more of Don’s story. His wife, Sue, wrote a poem about him that does much better that I could hope to do.
He has been a farmer all of his life,
Long before he took a wife,
He knew he was meant to work the soil.
His days on this earth would be spent in toil,
Planting the crops and clearing the land.
This was all part of the Master’s Plan.
As in his father’s and grandfather’s days,
For generations this had been the ways.
In which they would work the land and the sod,
Drawing nearer to nature and communing with God.
To each of his neighbors he lent a hand
They worked together to farm the land,
In autumn when the harvest came,
Each one in turn did the same.
All through the week they labored each day,
But on the Sabbath they gathered to pray.
To thank Him for His blessings and love,
What they gathered on earth had come from above..
When his children were born he watched them grow.
He taught them the lessons so they would know,
And learn the ways of country and farm,
Of love, truth, respect and to do no harm
To creature on land or those in the air,
And to be good stewards of the land in their care,
He watched them ride horses and float down the stream,
But he knew that their future could not be his dream.
This farmer he realizes that he has wealth beyond measure,
Because here on this farm he has found all his treasure,
With his family around him, for wealth there’s no need.
With all of His blessings he’s a rich man indeed.
His breed is a rare one, it’s becoming extinct,
With this world’s busy lifestyle, there’s no time to think.
Life’s becoming too hectic and people miss out,
On all of the beauty that lies roundabout,
This farmer can see it as he goes through his days,
From bird’s nests to sunsets, each free for the gaze.
The path that he’s taken is different than most.
He’s content in his heart and has no need to boast.
His drumbeat is different but he follows its sounds,
With his dog by his side he walks over this ground,
Of the land that he loves, he will do it no harm,
The place of his birth, the old family farm.