The heart of farming? It’s family.
A legacy. That’s what my great-great grandparents wanted to leave after they immigrated to the United States in the late 1880’s. They chose to live on the tall grass prairie that reminded them of their home as Germans from Russia. When they arrived in what became North Dakota, they brought a sense of pride, family and deep-seeded love of agriculture. Those traits have been passed down through the years to myself and my siblings.
We’ve been taught that we are the caretakers of our family farm, and it’s our responsibility to preserve the land for our children by sustainable practices.
My story begins in about 1885 when my great-grandparents immigrated to North Dakota. They came as children with their families. Those families were intent on finding a piece of land that they could call their own, on which to nurture their families and their way of life. All of those great-grandparents were Germans who moved to Russia under the rule of Catherine the Great. Once her reign ended and their peaceful lives became turbulent, they uprooted their families and left for America to build their lives in an atmosphere of religious freedom with the chance to be successful pioneer farmers. What they did was instill a deep love of the land and the desire to feed the world into their descendants.
Today, my family farm is over 100 years old. My two brothers and their families are now the caretakers of a rich history and tradition in farming. The operation is now cow/calf pairs and grain production. My uncle and his son drive 100 miles most weekends to be involved from planting to harvest. My sister and her husband also ranch, cattle and sheep. My husband and I are heavily involved in agriculture too through our daily jobs. As you can see, farming is in our blood.
As kids, our dad taught us that we needed to think beyond ourselves in order to preserve the family farm and to fulfill our greater mission – feeding the world. We were taught that our livestock were important and that they were to be well taken care of and treated fairly. My dad loved the spring of the year when the baby calves were born. To him, each was as precious as his own four kids. I could see him tear up if a calf became ill and died.
We fought hard for our livestock. We gave them a roof over their heads in bad weather, open pastures full of sunshine and supplemental vitamins to make them healthy and strong. Dad treated cattle who became ill, much like I’d take my own kids to the doctor to keep them healthy.
This was not a Pollyanna childhood. We knew the cycle of life and death. As kids, we worked hard and from a very young age. Even now, my brother will point out the things we did and drove at 12 years old that we’d never consider having our kids do now! For 10 years in the 1980s, we had dairy cattle on top of the beef cattle and grain fields. We kids played a vital role in the labor of the dairy herd by feeding baby calves and milking cows in the parlor.
Dad taught us that erosion control in our fields was vital to preserving the top soil for good crops. We farmed around shelter belts so that our lighter soils didn’t blow away in high winds. We rotated our pastures so that cattle were getting fresh grass and clean water. We did and my brothers continue to practice no-till farming so that the prior crop stubble catches rain and snowfall and also leaves behind organic matter. Pesticides are used responsibly to control weeds and pests. Crop disease is treated much like it is in cattle or kids – treat when needed and in a responsible fashion.
Being a local farmer means you also need to be a part of your local community. First, you need to be a good neighbor by giving a helping hand when needed. Farmers are a big part of the local economy and are often found being a part of township boards, city councils, school boards and church councils. They are willing participants in supporting the needs of their surrounding communities. And they love talking about their family operations! Hosting school buses of young kids is a common practice and great way for kids to understand where their food comes from.
As idyllic as it all sounds, farming is still a business. Decisions are made daily to be efficient, control the costs of production and allow for the fits of Mother Nature such as rainfall or snowstorms. My family strives to be successful for this generation and the next generation, which is already here and learning these long sustaining practices.
We are farmers but above all, we’re still parents. And we’re not going to engage in practices that will negatively affect our kids or yours.
Bridgette Readel was born and raised in Wishek, North Dakota. She has an extension degree from North Dakota State University and is married with two adult children. Bridgette has been a sales representative with Dow AgroSciences in North Dakota since 1997. She became a Market Development Specialist in 2013.