A Whole Different Type of "Tough"

Life gets tough. That’s just the way it goes. I know this just as well as anyone. Everyone copes different ways, but sometimes the only thing to do is to keep going. You can’t quit, you can’t stop. I’ve seen this life lesson lived out over and over again in different ways, but I’ve come to realize that this was a lesson I learned from farmers.

Running parallel to my last post (mainly in regards to the “stubborn” factor) I’d like to highlight the ability for everyday, average farmers to make ends meet. As often as you hear about families selling out, closing up, and moving into town, more and more there are stories about the tenacity of a family farm to stand fast on their ground and stare adversity in the eye.

Every farmer has a story of that bad year, the year that almost put the farm out of business. Sometimes, in a string of bad years, or even just one bad storm. A few weeks ago I spent some time sitting buddy-seat with a farmer as he planted corn. We got to reminiscing, and listening to the stories of how they made it through the toughest years was more than a little inspiring.

It’s fairly well-known that I’m a huge Garth Brooks fan. On his album No Fences there is a song called “Wolves.” It looks at the sadder side of this stick-to-it attitude. I won’t post the lyrics here, but it can really shed light on the emotions that don’t get talked about.

Imagine it this way: you work hard, harder than most. You do what you can to make ends meet, but sometimes it just doesn’t seem to be enough. You have dreams, and a family, and your family has dreams. You have kids to raise and a whole bushel-full of other obligations. What do you do when the bank says there isn’t enough money? How do you deal with the idea of losing the lifeblood of your income (and lifestyle)?
You pray like there is no tomorrow, even as you sit in a tractor or pull all-nighters working for a trucking company on the side.

It’s so easy to see farmers and ranchers being brave. It’s easy to see them doing whatever it takes to hang on. Behind the John Wayne-esque bravery that “outsiders” would see, there is fear. There is faith. There is hope and terror and a long list of what-if’s.
If you’ve ever talked to a farmer who’s buying land or negotiating contracts, it’s terrifying. When your currency tends to run in the tens-of-thousands and hundreds-of-thousands, it’s high-stakes. The “big checkbook” comes with a lot of careful maintenance and a healthy, fearful respect.
Farmers have taught me many life lessons, but this is probably the most valuable. Never give up, but don’t shut down. It’s alright to feel things like fear and doubt, but don’t ever let that stop you from gaining what you want (or need) or keeping what you already had. When it comes down to it, farmers and ranchers have to be tough. “Tough times don’t last, tough people do,” according to my high school algebra teacher. Agriculturalists just need to be a whole different type of “tough.”

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