Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Farm Girl Spirit

       Missing: 20-year old farm girl, blond hair, always wears boots. Last seen moving into an apartment that's three hours away.

      Yesterday my family packed up all of my sister's stuff and moved her up to the University of Florida. This is the next step in her journey into a life in the cattle business, and I'm so excited for her! But at the same time, I am short a sister. The era in our life where we shared a room and most of our lives is coming to and end and the chapter of adulthood and long-distance phone calls has begun.

our toast goodbye on our last night as roomies

       But as much as I miss my sister living here, I know I can call her whenever I want and she is just a short road trip away. I am not the one who misses her the most.

                          These guys are.

Photo credits Lisaset Photography. Check her out! 

          Nearly every single animal on this farm was passionately loved and cared for by Katie. The horses, cows, cats, and dogs began and ended their day when Katie came out to feed them. In fact, there is a worn path between our house and the barn that Katie walked every day. There are fences that she tacked up, mother cows who she gentled enough to trust us, tack she sorted and maintained, stalls she mucked, breezeways she swept clean, energetic blue heeler puppies she played with, and bales and bales of hay she fed over the winters. 
                You can't replace that by a phone call.

         This morning after I came in from the barn after feeding animals, I looked at the back door and saw this: 

                        Our border collie Eli was just sitting there, waiting for Katie. 
                    Seeing the hole she left in this farm by leaving, all the animals who miss her and all the tasks that might get left undone makes me wonder...what does it take to make an impact on a farm like that?
                     I believe that it's the Farm Girl Spirit. 
            Through the modernization and the urbanization of our country, the idea of a farm girl has become blurred and morphed. Some are so far removed from a rural zip code they picture a little pig-tailed and innocent Fern Arable, naive and obedient. Others, through the media's portrayal of what it looks like to live in the rural south (I'm looking at you, Party Down South!), picture a skinny brunette with bad highlights and dark eyeliner, who gets in bar fights and wears nothing but cutoffs and Jack Daniels tshirts. And obviously only uses hay lofts for...other things. 
              (Honestly, I need a whole other article to give my two cents on that image.)

           But through living on a farm, I know that the Farm Girl Spirit is not just about saying "y'all" and going mudding. Nor is it about wearing overalls and knowing nothing except for feeding pigs and saying "yes, Pa!" It's about being what it takes to do one of the hardest jobs you'll ever love.

             The Farm Girl Spirit is compassion. I see a lot of articles of critics shaming farmers for their mistreatment of animals. While I don't pretend to know everything about large, corporate farming, I do know that there  are countless small farms with girls like Katie on them. Girls who pay attention to every little detail, treating sores and cuts and feeding extra to a bullied cow. They aren't afraid to love something wholeheartedly even if they can't love it forever. 
              The Farm Girl Spirit is patience. Animals aren't smart, and plants don't grow in time-lapse mode. But a true farm girl is willing to wait on good things and to keep her cool in frustration. That plant that keeps withering, that cow who refuses to budge (there's one in every herd!)-- a farm girl keeps her head level and is willing to wait.

              The Farm Girl Spirit is dedication. Wake up every morning with the sun and get to work, no questions asked. A farm girl knows she can't and won't just give up when she doesn't 'feel like it' any more.

             The Farm Girl Spirit is stewardship and responsibility. Growing up my Granny left notes all over the farm, "Shut the gate," "Put it back where you found it." A farm girl understands the value of the tools and equipment she works with and takes good care of them. She knows what it means to have to answer for her mistakes, so she tries not to make them.

             The Farm Girl Spirit is determination an ingenuity. Feminism is trendy talk these days, and there have been times when farm women have made an easy target. Did you know that farm women in Wyoming and Utah were some of the first women to get the vote in America? They earned the respect of the men in the area because of their ability to rise up and meet the mental and physical demands of settling the West. Because the truth is, when it comes to manual labor men have a leg up. On average they are taller and stronger, whereas women are tiny and delicate. But that does not in any way mean that a farm girl cannot accept a challenge. A farm girl knows her weaknesses and works around them, building her body and using her head. Because she doesn't take 'no' for an answer.

              Lastly, The Farm Girl Spirit is pursuit of knowledge. Whether that knowledge comes from proven tradition passed down for generations or the latest research, farm girls do what they can to learn more. They are not satisfied with doing what they're told; they want to know the how and the why. They read books on grass production and stay up late prying knowledge out of parents and mentors. They drive four hours on their own accord to attend workshops and have a cow's hormonal cycle on display in their bedroom. That's Katie. And that pursuit of knowledge has whisked her away.

              Now that she's gone, I'm the farm girl. I'm the one the cows holler at and the horses nudge. And now I have to ask myself: can I do it?
                                    Can I capture the Farm Girl Spirit?

                                                          I hope I can. 



  1. You forgot to mention her tender care and affection for chickens...hee hee.

  2. I think you are already well on your way to capturing it.