I remember when I was a little girl, enduring long road trips to South Dakota to see my grandparents. We had this funky hatchback with bigger tires in the back than in the front. I felt like we looked like a stinkbug driving down the highway. I liked sitting with my forehead pressed against the window and watching stripes of crops go by. They looked like a fan in motion, so hypnotic that they could lull me right to sleep. I also remember playing a game with my sister: Find the Farmer. We almost never saw a farmer working out in the fields, and we wondered when on earth they did their work.
One time I said something to my mother about how nice it must be to be a farmer, how they didn’t have to work very much and always had plenty to eat. What a belly laugh that got out of her. “Honey, that is not an easy life,” she said. She told me about the vacation-deprived dairy farmers who can’t leave the cows un-milked for even a day. She talked about droughts and long winters and rotating crops. It really left an impression. I never looked at those fields the same way again.
I know even better now that farmers work their hands to the bone. There’s a lot of planning that goes into growing the livestock and crops that feed my family. So much so that when my kiddos push their green beans around on their plates complaining that they’re not hungry, I never use the “there are starving kids in Africa” tactic my parents used to take with me. I instead use “at least two families worked their tails off to get that food to your plate—the farmer’s and ours.” I want them to grow up respecting farmers, all the work that goes into feeding us, understanding that those stripes in the field aren’t just there for decoration. They symbolize an age-old connection, between we, the Looky Lous, and the hardworking men and women who provide sustenance to all.
Tonight I’m making green-bean casserole. I love that stuff! The fried onions, the rich gravy sauce—yum, yum. I bought a little matchbox tractor at the store this afternoon, and I think I’m going to set that thing right atop the dish before I serve it. It will serve as a good reminder not to push the beans around the plate—and not to shove the farmers who grew those beans into the margins of our thoughts.