It’s no secret Utah’s farmers and ranchers produce a remarkable product – high-quality meat, dairy, grains, forages, fruits, and vegetables. If one allows him or herself to sit back and contemplate the resources and work necessary to feed the human family, you’ll conclude it’s an extraordinary miracle.
In addition to feeding the human family, these same farmers and ranchers routinely set forth, almost secretly, to inspire and connect neighbors, friends, associates, and even strangers to live a higher, more fulfilling pattern to life. They are equipped to do this because they are often on high ground and in a stronger position to lift, inspire and direct. They do this by example. I’m a personal witness.
March 2000 – While visiting a small west Weber County dairy, I found the owner and operator, a well-seasoned dairyman in his aging milk parlor, juggling the demanding, multiple tasks associated with the morning shift. After several minutes of staying clear and watching from a distance, it was apparent this lifelong dairyman knew his cows, the condition of his equipment and the exact order and timing of the tasks before him. He was alone, but accomplishing the work designed for a crew. After a break in the action, he staggered over to me while removing his rubber gloves. We shook hands and together discussed an urgent local Farm Bureau issue that likely needed his attention soon. Without hesitating, he motioned for me to follow him to his pickup and together we drove across town where I watched him matter-of-factly and professionally attend to an issue only he could address given his leadership role in the County Farm Bureau. On the way back to the cows, he treated me to a drink and repeatedly thanked me for my interest in him, the issue and the County Farm Bureau. It was a team effort. He was a man of his word. He was committed to his volunteer leadership position. I will remember him.
May 2003 – In an attempt to prepare for an upcoming County Farm Bureau board meeting in Summit County, I made an early afternoon, unannounced stop at the corrals of a County Farm Bureau board member. My cowboy friend and board member was a far off from where I parked. As I opened my truck door to step out onto his muddy, soupy corral ground, I was unexpectedly greeted by his excited, fully entrenched with mud/manure, cow dog. Before I could get my hands and arms up to minimize the damage, this cow dog jumped to my chest and slid down my front. Still holding my breath, I looked down at my button-down shirt and slacks, then to the cow dog running away, and finally, over to my laughing, unapologetic cowboy leader and friend. We talked, we laughed and conducted business.
Then, without a spare change of clothes or adequate time to return home to change, I drove directly to the Weber County Commission Chamber for a time-certain speaking assignment before the County Commissioners. There I stood still bathed in wet, muddy attire speaking on behalf of Farm Bureau members in front of local, elected officials and concerned citizens. Word quickly traveled to Farm Bureau staff, neighboring County Farm Bureau leaders and members of my muddy, embarrassing, public appearance and experience.
Repeatedly, my allies and supporting associates would remind me of what’s most important, “It’s not so much the presentation, as much as it is the content that matters most.” Ever since then, public speaking was a little easier. Little did I know then, that future Utah Farm Bureau assignments would result in many public speaking responsibilities. I’ve always remembered the importance of content. That spring day in Summit and Weber counties, I gained a deeper, more lasting perspective. I’ll remember.
July 2011 – So that I could better understand and properly speak to some pending, controversial legislation, a County Farm Bureau leader initiated a visit with me at his farm in the Uintah Basin. Like most visits, our discussion occurred while on the move in his pickup truck crisscrossing throughout his rural community. He showed me specific sites and current conflicts driving the legislation. He knew the issue well and was a master at helping me understand the direct and indirect implications associated with the issue. He gave me virtually his whole July day. During those hours of driving and pulling over and talking, many of his neighbors and business associates passed us on the road. I suppose many he knew and others he did not. Regardless, I repeatedly watched him acknowledge everyone, without exception. Most often, it was his pointer index finger that would rise off the top of his steering wheel signaling a ‘hello’. Other times, he’d tip his hat or a casual wave from his driver-side window. I drove home that evening emulating what he did. I too would raise my pointer index finger or wave from my window to those passing by. I still do. I will remember.
June 2017 – At the request of a lifelong farmer and developing friend and professional leader of mine, I drove several early morning hours to his hay farm in southwest Utah. At the appointed time, we met at his equipment yard and walked together to his office – a well-used pickup truck. With his help from the inside and my muscle from the outside, together we opened the passenger side door for me to join him. As I sat on a flattened cardboard box to minimize the remaining and protruding springs on my side of the bench, he shifted into gear and slowly accelerated towards one of his hay center pivots. Immediately, I was captivated by the real-time show before me. I had never seen so many papers, publications, brochures on a dashboard before. The vice-grip tool gear shifter was intriguing. Well-used tools rattling under his feet and mine. Multiple cracks throughout the windshield that appeared to have never been cleaned – ever. There were no signs of lights, working needles, gauges, or instruments on the dashboard.
As he drove down the two-lane track, he appeared to make no effort to dodge gaping potholes and overgrown bushes. We parked alongside his new John Deere swather and together climbed inside. Within moments, the engine roared to optimum RPM’s, the header was dropped and GPS technology was tracking our every move. After two quick passes around the perimeter of the field and brief, one-time explanations of how to operate the tractor and the onboard GPS computer equipment, he jumped back into his most intriguing pickup and directed me to finish cutting the hay.
As he drove off, I marveled how he could seem content in what appeared to be a deathbed pickup in one minute and operate a modern, state of the art hay swather the next. For the next several hours, I was struck by the miracle of production agriculture. There I sat on my air suspension seat, listening to a Bose sound system in a dust-free cab with little to no contact with both the steering wheel and throttle and moving through first cutting hay at what appeared to be rocket speeds. In very short order, this hay farmer boldly taught me that teaching is best delivered through actions, not words. He taught me that order and organization do not always lead to productivity and effectiveness. I will remember.
Without question, Utah’s farm and ranch families grow far more than food for humanity. They are equally effective at growing men and women. They have certainly and directly grown me. I am far better prepared for life now as a direct result of my interactions with Utah’s farmers and ranchers. They have taught by their actions, their examples. They have repeatedly and willingly given me opportunities to grow, learn and prepare for life’s challenges and joys – personally and professionally. Utah’s farmers and ranchers – and the Farm Bureau family –grow leaders.