Do you know how your food gets to your table? Chances are it started with a farmer. A quick search will tell you the definition of a farmer – that is the easy part.
Farmer: a person who farms; person who operates a farm or cultivates land (dictionary.com)
Farmer: person who cultivates land or crops or raises animals (such as livestock or fish). (Merriam-Webster)
The hard part is defining my role on the farm. Anyone can Google the definition of a farmer, but what am I? When my mom retired from her off-farm job she coined the term “farmer extender” and I think that is a more fitting descriptor for what I am. I am in no way qualified to run the farm or make daily marketing or agronomy decisions – that is all my husband, Marcel. However, I would like to think that I help the farm run more smoothly and that the crew can tell a difference when I am not here for a few days. The “extender” refers to my role extending Marcel’s reach by freeing him up to concentrate his efforts on equipment, marketing, crop scouting and agronomic decisions.
As an extender it falls within my influence to remember the long-term and big-picture, to make sure our international trainees feel at home and know that we value what they add to our farm family, and to keep a positive perspective. As an extender I am also a multi-tasker; my role is to balance today’s plan, the five year plan and the twenty year plan. I also multi-task to keep the farm in perspective – the drought in Brazil or flooding in the Midwest US can take over if you let it, so I help everyone remember that there is a world beyond the field we are working on today. I also believe that as an extender, I extend ag to the next generation. Our girls can spot a combine half a mile away and yell “Daddy’s truck” when the semi returns to the field or the yard because I make the effort to expose them to the farm. It lightens the mood when the girls are out for supper in the field and it helps the girls understand what Dad and the trainees (whom we call their brothers) are doing when they are working. Lastly, as an extender I have to look at things as a web, and not linear. My job is to be one step away so that I can be the creative brain in problem solving and brainstorming.
Prior to having kids my role as an extender included being a hands-on operator, when my off-farm job allowed. We quickly learned that I am not the best grain cart driver, and that I do much better in the combine! I was also responsible for parts runs and fuel to the field in addition to personnel, food and running the household. This year I am not a hands-on operator, but I have maintained the other roles, and sometime I hope to be able to bring the girls along as I operate the combine again. Right now my role has less to do with the physical aspects of being a farmer-extender in the field and more about the mental aspects of helping, like thinking-out-loud, consider decisions and make sure that farm and family intersect. Plus, making a lot of food! Many farm problems have been solved simply by taking a 20 minute brain break to feed the body, rest the mind and re-set the thinking.
Every farmer needs a team around him or her to make sure that their product gets to market - and hopefully to your table (wheat, oats, canola, soybeans, sunflowers, flax) , fuel tank (corn), children’s crayon box (soybeans) or many other places in your everyday life. The team is more efficient when every person has a role to play, and for me that means being a farmer-extender, even if that role is hard to define.