As a young girl growing up on a farm it was a given that you didn't quit until the work was done or the flashlight batteries died. Everyone played a part in the operation of the farm. Most of my summers were spent on a hay field, stacking bales on a wagon and unloading them in the barn so the horses would have enough food to last through winter. And there were more than a few times that I spend a day in the rain helping fix broken machinery.
While it doesn't seem very glamourous, I learned the greatest lessons of my life growing up on a farm. In addition to the continuous work to keep animals healthy and farm operations moving forward my brother and I were given the opportunity to use what resources where available on the farm to create our own entrepreneurial enterprises. One year it was growing pumpkins to sell for deer feed. One year it was growing acres of sweet corn. We also raised animals to sell at auction. Through work on the farm and involvement in 4-H service clubs we learned how to manage small-scale entrepreneurial businesses, learned the importance of volunteering and lending service to others, and the importance of perseverance.
While family farms are shrinking and disappearing across the US as farming operations become increasingly industrialized, there are still many family farming operations across the region continuing to pass down these life lessons to younger generations.
Next week, kids and young adults from across the county will be gathering at the Alpena County Fair to put the fruits of their labor to the test. They will be showing their 4-H horses, calves, pigs, poultry and rabbits to demonstrate their ability to train an animal that is often more than twice their size. They will display their knowledge of farm and garden crops, agricultural entrepreneurship, and animal husbandry. It is here that you will find some of the community's most promising future leaders. Young minds that have been taught the importance of following through with an outstanding work ethic, and the ability to see the big picture while remaining astute to the attention of detail.
Farm kids are no stranger to hard work. Smashing through ice with a sledge hammer so the animals can get a drink is a common past-time in winter months. And it doesn't matter how hot it was outside in the summer or how badly they want to go swimming, if the hay needs to come off the field before it rains, they take care of the hay. They don't say, "It's too cold outside. I don't feel like doing my chores." They bundle up, and haul 5-gallon buckets of water over snowbanks to nourish their market animals. They don't say, "I don't want to help clean, I'd rather play video games." They hop up and get the work done first, because they know it will allow them more freedom later. The kid who is helping his dad build a barn today, pounding the last nail as the sun goes down; will most likely be running his own company in matter of years. The kid who goes to school with a couple pieces of hay stuck in his hair isn't necessarily messy. He just did more work before 8 a.m. than most of us will accomplish all day. They follow the 4-H slogan "Learn by Doing."
If we don't grow our own food, it is coming from a farm and it's important to support local farming operations to ensure a healthy local food supply. It's a tradition of heritage and a celebration of our agricultural roots. So let's support the perseverance of these young entrepreneurs by attending the Alpena County Fair. Thank them for their dedication and commitment to continued learning and service to the agricultural community. They will carry these experiences with them through the rest of their lives. Some will carry on with farming traditions and feed the rest of us; and some will transfer the lessons to help run the corporate world. Today, their leadership aptitude is demonstrated in their ability to follow through on their projects throughout the year, culminating in the tests and trails that take place during fair week. Let's cheer them on!
Mary Beth Stutzman's Inspiring A-Town runs bi-weekly on Tuesdays. Follow Mary Beth on Twitter @mbstutz.