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Does sacrifice excuse poor judgment?

Agriculture.com Staff 07/06/2010 @ 5:15pm

This is in response to the last line of your September column: "Does the farm lifestyle really require sacrificing all that's good in life?"

I am a 47-year-old daughter of a life-long hired-hand farmer, and our family gave up a lot.

Dad worked like a slave, and was never home because he was always at the farm he loved. We almost never took a vacation. Family gatherings were only a priority if the work was done. Mom worked like a dog canning and freezing because we felt guilty if anything was "wasted".

When other kids had decent clothes, my siblings and I got a couple of new outfits every fall and the rest were ill-fitting hand-me-downs that the other school kids made fun of. A college education was out of the question because my parents could never have afforded it and had zero knowledge of college or scholarships in those days.

After 50+ years of Dad working for his childless employers, the farm they promised him was seized in an eminent domain takeover under the guise of "preservation."

The buildings are falling into disrepair. The fields, rented to a sub-par farmer, are overrun with weeds. Suburbanite-elected, former-city-dwellers-turned-politicians pat themselves on the back for "preserving" the farm, with no idea the damage done to the farm and to my family.

In hindsight, I would advise farm families to consider very carefully the decision to devote their entire lives to farming, because the fruits of their life-long labors may never be harvested unless they have very good lawyers and iron-clad written contracts.

What is sacrificed in time and family relationships can never be reclaimed. If farm families believe they are building something they can pass down to the next several generations of their family, they may be sadly mistaken.

The September column question asked if the farming life required sacrificing even a minimally balanced life. C.C. is addressing a related, but significantly different question: does commitment to a farming life require suspending common sense?

Although a hired hand, C.C.'s father, like so many blood family farm successors, committed his career and his life--even his family--to the farming life he loved. His loyalty, dedication, courage and perseverance are unquestioned. What should be questioned is his judgment.

For more than a half-century he worked without a legal agreement formalizing the promise his employer made to him. True, he may have lost the farm itself in any event, but even eminent domain requires compensation to the owners. This value could have been left to him and his family. The owners could have specified his continuing as the tenant farmer.

Early on, he may have feared to push for a contract, but after 25 or 30 years, didn't he have a right--even more, an obligation (to himself and his family)--to get that promise clarified?

It may have been a hand-shake world 50 years ago, but it hasn't been that way for at least a generation. Today, for life changing financial issues at least, if the agreement or promise isn't in writing, it doesn't exist.

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