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The family farm

Erica Ramsey Louder for Progressive Forage Published on 04 August 2022

For the last few months, I’ve written about what it is like to return to my hometown. This month, I had another bout of déjà vu that pulled me even more tightly into the cocoon of our family farm.

The farm is not large, under 200 crop acres and some cattle grazing ground. It employs nobody, not really, but it probably should. It couldn’t pay them, but it could keep them busy. That’s the problem with smallish farms. Economies of scale and such nonsense are real.

So, this farm doesn’t employ anyone full time, but it employs a lot of people on some sort of part-time basis. My dad, two brothers, husband and I put in at least a few hours a week on it. This time of year, the most pressing work required is irrigating. Compared to the modern irrigating luxury we enjoyed in Jerome (i.e., the pivot), irrigating here is positively medieval. It’s mainly flood irrigation with some sprinkler pipe thrown in. Our county fair even has a siphon tube setting contest. One is required to set 25 tubes in two minutes. My husband, who can practically rebuild a pivot, has yet to master the siphon tube. Fortunately, we only water one field via the scientific miracle of siphoned water. We water the corn with gated pipe, which Craig has mastered.

I don’t do siphon tubes or gated pipe. That leaves the sprinkler lines to me. They’re not pivots, but they are pressurized. Last Sunday, I took my turn moving the handlines and the wheel lines on the alfalfa field we call the Liddell place. I spent my teenage summers doing this, and the chore feels nostalgic. Craig came with me this time, and as we worked as a pair, me on one end unlatching the pipe, him on the other pulling it out and lifting it to drain out. I’d pick up the end, and together we’d carry it to the following line, me lining it up and him pushing it in. I’d yell, “pull,” when the latch was tight. I felt 17 again. I was hurrying to get the water moved so I could meet up with a boy, my muscles strong and tan and covered in mosquito bites.

I asked Craig, “Have you ever changed water on this field before?” I couldn’t remember the last time I had, but I thought maybe I had once when we’d visited. He said he never had. I probably hadn’t either then. Thinking that brought me back to the summer I graduated high school and all the hours I’d spent in that field. It was 13 years ago. After that summer, I left my hometown for college and never really returned. Now, a full-fledged adult, I’ve returned home. That field, the rhythmic process of moving pipe and the pipe-pressurizing sound were comforting on the sweltering July evening.

What is it about the family farm that draws a person? Because I’ve certainly felt drawn, and I’m not the only 30-something I know who has returned to the family farm. I’ve got college classmates who have left the corporate ag industry to find themselves overworked and underpaid in the cab, a tractor or a dairy barn, drawn by the pull of an aging grandfather. Our family farm and its subsequent legacy is nothing quite like this, yet the three properties I’ve owned with my husband, name-on-the deed owned, never felt like mine the way my dad’s farm does.  end mark

Erica Ramsey Louder is a freelance writer based in Idaho.