Still Waters: Bless the farmers

I am not a farmer or even a gardener, and although my name may appear with “Farmville” requests, it is my little sister who is managing those farms of all different themes and varieties. I am the absentee landlord of sorts.

I am a fan of farmers, just like I am a fan of artists, even though neither is among my gifts. I always feel that I am among some of the most important people on the planet when I attend events like this week’s agriculture conference in Monte Vista. These are the folks who supply our dinner tables with food, whether it is carrots, potatoes or for many folks, beef steaks and lamb roasts. I am more of the potatoes part of the “meat and potatoes” consumer. I love potatoes about any way you could fix them. In fact I don’t think I’ve met a potato I didn’t like. I like them baked, fried, mashed, boiled, shredded … with cheese on top!

The ag conference did not just deal with potatoes but had interesting discussions on everything from biological pest control to business planning. The thought of introducing bugs to kill specific noxious weeds and nothing else around them is intriguing to me. It is hard to believe the bug won’t diversify and start eating something he shouldn’t, but the folks who develop these biocontrol bugs spend a lot of time (usually 10 years) perfecting them to just eat the nasty weed or other harmful bug they are supposed to.

Speaking of diversifying, that seemed to be a common message among many of the presenters this week at the ag conference. The old idea of not putting all your eggs in one basket seems to make sense for farmers and ranchers these days. If you’ve always grown potatoes, think about growing some potatoes of a different color or size for specialty markets. If you have always grown grains, try something new like canola or hemp. But don’t hitch your wagon only to that one star. Make sure there’s a market for your hemp crop before you grow it. Get a contract signed first.

These were some of the messages folks were giving to farmers this week: Diversify but use common sense as well.

Common sense is usually one of the commodities farmers possess, thankfully. They are a down-to-earth (pun intended) bunch who may have a degree from ASU or CSU, but they also have the “hard knocks” degree that keeps them balanced and grounded (also pun intended.)

I can’t even imagine all of the challenges farmers face now, and probably have always faced. In addition to the natural obstacles they face like weather, insects and bankers, they also have to deal with water management sub-districts and state groundwater rules. They also have to figure out how they are going to pass their farmland on to family members or strangers when they are ready to retire, if that ever happens with farmers.

Farmers have to be strategists, economists, realists and idealists. They have to believe the “sun will come out tomorrow,” and at least for most of the days in the San Luis Valley, that will be true. Here, they have to worry more about when it might rain or snow, and if it will be enough to run irrigation ditches for as long as they need them this season.

Since I can’t even grow zucchini, I would not be a good candidate for farming, but I have a great deal of admiration for those who continue to engage in this risky habit. Like folks who cannot help themselves but to be musicians or artists, writers or teachers, ministers or healers, farmers cannot help themselves. They are called, if you will, to draw life from the soil.

It’s a difficult calling, and there’s no let up in the demands, obstacles and challenges.

We who put our forks to our plates reap the benefits of their hard work.

And with every bite of baked potato, I am grateful for them.