Hop in, I’ll take you with me!
Do you ever have one of those moments that totally changes your perspective on something? The same thing happened to me a couple of weeks ago. My day job was done for the day, and naturally, I found myself and my two boys heading to the farm as quickly as I could get there. I unloaded both of my boys. I grabbed a car seat out of the truck, sippy cups, snacks, and wet wipes just in case. We are all settled in. I hang my hat on the hook, pull my sunglasses down and we are off. Already feeling grateful, I look over and see the boys munching away on their snacks while they watch the hay come and go under the header and the little one’s eyes are already starting to get heavy. I can’t imagine life getting any better and I can’t help but smile a little. My thoughts start to switch to the business side of trying to keep the family farm profitable when a song comes on the radio that grabs my attention. I don’t usually care much about the newest buzz with modern country, but I reach down and turn it up anyway.
Daddy, what's that mean? That little turtle and the rabbit
He sat me in that seat, showed me the wheel and how to grab it
He said, "I'll work the pedals, If you climb up on my knee", I'll take you with me…
…If it was up to me, we'd do everything together
And when you're young like that, you think those days last forever
Didn't know back then how much those words would mean
I'll take you with me (Combs, 2023)
Almost at once, I am taken back to my childhood. Looking out the window to see Grandpa out with the team and the bobsled getting ready to go feed cattle. I grab a stocking cap from Grandma and sprint outside before I get left. I made it in time to hear, “Hop in Tuffy, I’ll take you with me.”
A couple of years later, I pedaled my bike home, changed clothes, and headed to the barn as fast as I could ride, to find Dad strapping down a load of hay on the semi. He’s getting ready to take it to a neighbor dairyman. Dad smiles and says, “Hop in, I’ll take you with me”.
Those years came and went and before long I was bringing a cute girl I met in school around the farm. She’s riding around in tractors, semis, farm trucks, and four-wheelers with me. There’s something romantic about cruising around on the farm with the one you love, and before long, I ask her to be my ultimate “take you with me” girl. After a few months, we’re building a life together.
My eyes are getting a little misty now thinking about all those memories. I look over and both boys are sound asleep. We haven’t been in the swather for more than 15 minutes, and the 4-year-old is banging his head on the window with every bump. I searched the cab for anything to use for a pillow and found a dirty sweatshirt to jam under his head. I think, “Man, I don’t know how I’m going to get out of here to change a knife if I need to. This sure would be quicker and easier if I didn’t have two tagalongs riding between me and the door.” As soon as I have the thought, it is as if someone dumped a bucket of cold water on me. At that moment, I realized that a lot of things would have been easier for everyone who let me tag along when I was a kid. It’s on me now to say, “Hop in, I’ll take you with me.”
Just like that, the weight of the task ahead settles in a little heavier. I must do all I can to make sure my kids can grow up just like I did, right alongside my siblings and cousins. The nagging thought creeps into the back of my mind, “Will you be the generation that loses the family farm?” I don’t want to think about that and try to push the thought out of my head, but anyone in my situation knows that the thought never really goes away. “No, I won’t let it happen,” I think to myself and turn around for another pass.
Some that are reading this might think that this sounds like a cute little story, but truthfully, our story isn’t all that unique. I’m sure there are hundreds of men and women who have similar thoughts and worries as I do every day. In my time attending events with the Utah Farm Bureau, I’ve had the opportunity to meet dozens of families who are in a comparable situation to mine. So, if that is true, then why do we hear so much about “corporate farming in America”? The truth is, that scenario isn’t as common as you might think.
According to a USDA study in 2018, 98% of farms in America are family owned and operated. Of that 98% of family farm operators, 80% have off-farm jobs as do 62% of their spouses (Whitt, 2020). The reason is margins are tight for small-scale family farms. Most times, you can’t feed a family on a small family farm. It is simply too hard to compete against larger entities who have better buying power and market to sell in.
Now, before you light the torches and go after the large-scale operators, let me be clear that midsize and large-scale family farms account for 66% of U.S. production, while small family farms account for 21%. Yes, you can be large-scale AND still be a family farm. That leaves only 12% of U.S. production to non-family farms.
When it comes down to it, less than 2% of the U.S. population is feeding 330 million people every day, so let's be kind. Not all farming is trying to destroy the world. I know I’m not, and neither are the hundreds of families across this state and country who are trying to put food on your table.
Suddenly, I snap out of my daze, and look over and both boys are awake again. I make another turn and ask the boys “How was your nap?!” The little one looks up and says “Dada ‘nack”. I smile, reach behind the seat, and pull out a bag of pretzels. Before long, a smell starts to fill the cab. I realize, of all that I remembered to grab from the truck, I’m missing an extra diaper. For a good long minute, I thought about calling my wife to come get the little one and pretend I didn’t know about the present he had for her, but instead, we ran back to the truck, it wouldn’t be fair for him or my wife if he went home. You know what though, it's okay that this field is going to take me a little longer than it would have if I’d been alone. Because after all, I was the one that said, “Hop in, I’ll take you with me”.
Brady Spackman and his wife Amanda live and farm in Cache County, and serve on the State Young Farmers & Ranchers (YF&R) Committee, representing District 1 (Cache, North Box Elder, Rich, and South Box Elder County Farm Bureaus).
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