National Ag Day is being celebrated today, and it is a poignant celebration for my family this year. Dad suffered a brain injury when he fell in his farm shop in Maryland in January. After a month in hospitals, he is recovering steadily at home under the watchful care of my mother, but the future of the farm is uncertain.
Dad, 76, was farming full time when he had his accident, raising pick-your-own strawberries and raspberries (strawberryfarm.com). He was in the fields at dawn every day hoeing weeds, moving irrigation pipe, pruning, and doing all the chores necessary to produce a top quality crop.
Now he struggles to navigate the front porch steps, and uses a cane to walk slowly to the end of the lane to get the mail. As I walked with him up the lane on Saturday, I saw my sister working in her cherry trees on the hill. She produces pick-your-own sweet cherries under high tunnels. The job of managing Dad's farm, including the finances, has now been added to her duties (she also has a full-time career in ag lending).
I live 1,100 miles away on a small farm in Iowa. All I can do for my parents is fly in every few months for moral support. If you are the "far-away" child in your family, you know what I mean.
Spring is here, and there are a multitude of chores to be done to prepare the fields for the picking season. My sister was installing row covers on Saturday, with the help of a hired crew, to keep deer from eating the strawberries. Dad has been watching the deer out the living room window, and says they are extra thin and desperate after the hard winter.
The farm's standing order for new strawberry plants was cancelled last week. The field prep and other chores with new plants are more than my sister can manage. Dad hopes to plant another variety in the fall.
Yesterday in Washington D.C. I listened to Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Krysta Harden speak at the kickoff for National Ag Day. Her family farm in Georgia has similar transition challenges. "I'm faced with issues a lot of farmers and ranchers are faced with," she said. "I want to make sure the farm stays in the family and stays in agriculture."
Young farmers are her special focus at USDA. "We need to make sure we have a bench in agriculture," said Harden. "It's personal for me."
Farming is personal. Celebrate National Ag Day. Hug a farmer.