Bird is the Word: Things I have learned – My first year as a farmer’s wife

September 2015 Posted in Columnists & Opinion

Kali-MartinBy Kali Ramey Martin

I feel hesitant to write this as I know, without a doubt, this community is stocked with seasoned farmers’ wives who’ve seen it all.

I know I run the risk of saying something silly or naive, but I also know that when we made the decision to move out here and join the family farm, there was little information on what to expect.

I spent hours googling, looking for words of wisdom from women who’d survived a harvest season and trying to prepare myself for what lay ahead, coming up short time and time again.

So while I’ve only lived through one harvest so far, and I’ve yet to see it all, I decided it was worth any potential embarrassment to start the conversation and provide even a shred of support for the other young farm families out there. Here are a few of the most valuable things I learned this summer.

Listen  

There’s not a lot you can do about the weather, a bad harvest, unreliable laborers, poor prices or broken down equipment.

Hold off on whatever urge you have to offer advice or encouragement and just LISTEN. Most of the time that was all my husband needed.

Kali with her “farmer” Taylor Martin.

Kali with her “farmer” Taylor Martin.

Have realistic expectations 

June, July and August are for farming.

Don’t set yourself up for failure by holding out hope that you’ll both be able to attend that barbeque with friends or family camping trip.

Warn yourself and others that you’ll have limited availability or will be flying solo during those months. Despite what it sometimes feels like, there’s a tradeoff for being swamped for three months out of the year. The other nine are relatively flexible!

Take what you can get

Get up with him so you can eat breakfast together. Make a nice lunch that you can share on those hot afternoons. Pack up your dinner and take it out to the field to eat in a tractor, if need be.

You may not be getting the “quality” time or lengthy conversations you get other times of the year, but take what you can get. Meet them where they’re at and enjoy what time you do have together.

Hold down the fort

Harvest means early mornings and late nights, and despite the fact that your farmer may happily unload the dishwasher and clean bathrooms in the winter months, summer is the time to redistribute some of the responsibilities so he can focus on work and sleep.

Plan to take over the house duties, yard care, bills, etc. for the summer season and then when things slow down, you can balance back out. Your efforts will be much appreciated.

Take an interest and participate

Remember which field the pickers went through last night and which machine needed adjustments.

Know the names of the equipment, understand what each tractor does and maybe even learn how to drive them.

Figure out how to work the irrigation valves and recognize when there is a problem.

Ride along in the berry truck to take a load into the processing plant and ask them to call you when they’re doing something new and exciting.

Head out to the fields to see how things work and understand the life cycles of the crops.

Farming is pretty fascinating and makes it easier to understand why it’s consuming your life when you have an understanding of what all goes into it.

Good food cures a lot of things

There’s a reason farmers’ wives have a reputation for being excellent cooks.

A good, hot meal a couple times a day works wonders for both your souls. I found that preparing food for the person I love who’s out in the field working his hardest is extremely satisfying. And there’s nothing better for an exhausted soul than comfort food cooked with love.

Plan things to look forward to in the off-season

It’s a lot easier to stomach the friends who’ve been camping, fishing or boating all summer if you have something on the calendar to anticipate.

Take a trip in the fall to celebrate the summer’s work and take full advantage of spring weekends before harvest season sets in.

Be patient

Just because all of the berries are picked, the tractors are washed and your farmer’s work days have returned to just daylight hours, don’t expect them to jump right back into life as you knew it.

After working 16-20 hour days for months on end, they are completely depleted and it’ll still be a few weeks before they’re back to full working order.

Be patient, give them some space and resist the urge to point out how hard you’ve been working, too. In no time, they’ll be restored and be incredibly grateful for all you’ve done to support them.

It was a challenging summer with extreme heat, unusual conditions and strange weather. It was a season of really long hours and a lot of time spent on my own.

I went in expecting the worst and I can’t say my expectations were too far off. Harvest is a really hard time for everyone. As we head into September, we are both so tired, and feel just as dry and dead as the fields around us. But I also have to say that I can’t remember a time I’ve ever been more proud of my husband, impressed by his gracious attitude and determination, and confident of our capacity to work together. First year in the books, and many more sweet years to come.

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