“…I still enjoy life every day and I’m excited about getting up in the morning. I don’t mind being old, I’m still enjoying life.”
My dad once told me that farmers are some of the smartest people that you’ll ever have the pleasure to meet. They have knowledge that most of us would only know if we googled it, and they know it instinctually. They know when the last frost is going to be, that you put barley in before mid-September, how to keep a cow from kicking by holding their tail. They can pick up a handful of hay and know if it’s ready to rake, and can test soil to know if its time to plant just by breaking it in their hands. After spending time interviewing a man whose whole life has been dedicated to the farming lifestyle, I can confirm for you that my dad is right.
My hope is that after reading this, you’ll think of Robert and all the hard working farmers like him the next time that you’re stuck behind that tractor, or loading up your shopping cart. There’s so much more to this life than meets the eye:
“…children learn about life and death and the way things work more than children who don’t live on farms.”
Robert was born in Washington County, Maryland in 1945. When he was six years old, his father bought the farm where he spent his childhood; the same farm that Robert’s grandchildren are growing up on today. Like any boy growing up on a farm, besides working alongside his father, he spent his time with a shotgun and a fishing pole in his hand, spending his leisure time hunting and fishing.
“One time I caught a twenty-three and a half inch long trout out behind the barn. My father told me where it was. We had baby ducks and they were disappearing, they were down to one duck. And my father figured out what was going on. This trout was eating the baby ducks. And I caught him.”
He spoke of his childhood fondly; thankful for how the farm prepared him for the realities of the life ahead:
“I think one of the main things you learn on a farm is that animals are for eating, and that they don’t live forever. You learn a lot about death because animals are always dying from time to time, and children learn about life and death and the way things work more than children who don’t live on farms.”
His parents were an integral part of him learning these life lessons. Not only did they teach him to care for the land and about life and death, but they also taught him how to have a good and patient heart.
“My mother was always a strong Christian and she told me about the Lord and how to live, and I followed her advice. My father was honest and quiet. Never got mad and very patient. And I think I picked up some of his attributes.”
Thinking back on his childhood and watching his grandchildren grow up today, I asked Robert what he thought the biggest difference between kids today and kids back then would be.
“I think its more the way that people are raised than there being a difference. If they’re raised on a farm, and they are interested in farming, and they’re into 4H and FFA they seem to be pretty much the same as what kids were years ago. If they’re doing nothing but playing video games and punching their phone all day long, they seem to be a lot different. Their whole world is punching a phone or playing a video game.”
Called to Farm
“…some days at about 1:30 or 2:00 I would just get in my car and leave the school, go home and do extra work on the farm. They never caught me doing it.”
Even back then, having been raised on a farm made Robert different from a number of the other kids at school. He didn’t spend his Summers trying out for the varsity football team. He was his father’s right hand man. And when his father became sick and bedridden, Robert put in more hours of work than any teenager today, or maybe even then, could imagine.
“When I was a senior in high school I went to school, milked the cows when I came home, milked the cows before I went to school, plowed and plowed the fields, planted the crops. When graduation came I was really on vacation and all I had to do was the farm. But it was rough going to school and taking care of the farm too.”
Robert even managed to find extra time to invest in the farm. While most kids who would play hooky from school would head off to relax, Robert headed home to work.
“When I started my senior year, I had a class that I didn’t like. I talked to the guidance counselor about getting out of this class and they forgot to reschedule me for another. So I had one less class because they never found out about it. The shop teacher, he liked me and I did real good in shop and he didn’t care if I hung around for an extra hour. So I just hung around the shop and worked on the machines, and some days at about 1:30 or 2:00 I would just get in my car and leave the school, go home and do extra work on the farm. They never caught me doing it.”
The long hours weren’t the only thing setting Robert apart from other young men his age. The country recognized how important the farming industry was to both the people of the United States, and also to the success of the nation during war times. While other young men were being called up to go to Vietnam, Robert was being called to take over the farm.
“They knew they needed farmers. That’s why I wasn’t in Vietnam. When they took over a country they knew they needed to feed the people and they knew the United States needed to grow a lot of food, so they gave deferments to farm boys who were actively farming.”
” ‘I would follow you to a jungle in Ecuador’ I think she said.”
While much of Robert’s life has revolved around the farm, it is far from the only thing that he holds dear. After graduating from high school, Robert eventually met his wife.
“In the fall of the year the girls would come down to go to Maryland Medical Secretary School and they lived in a dormitory called Dagmar Hall. Us boys, we would go out to the north end and we’d pick flowers in the people’s back yards and we’d make a nice bouquet, and we’d take it down to Dagmar and the girls would stick their heads out the windows and they’d come down for flowers.”
Robert’s wife attended this school and one day, as he and his friends were driving past, she caught his eye. His friend stopped the car, he got out and asked her to the Halloween parade. Simple as that. But his future bride found out quickly that you have to make some allowances when dating a farmer.
“I asked her to the Halloween parade. After that we almost broke up. I was supposed to call her in the evening but I went to the livestock auction with my father and we didn’t get back till late. I called and she thought I didn’t want to talk to her anymore.”
They eventually got engaged, her responding to his proposal with an unconventional, but enthusiastic response.
“‘I would follow you to a jungle in Ecuador’ I think she said.”
And while she didn’t grow up on a farm herself, it didn’t take her long to catch on to the life of a farmer’s wife.
“She always suspected that the cows came in front of her.”
Tragedy and Defying the Odds
“…most times when there’s a catastrophe like that in a marriage, the marriage breaks up. But I think if anything it made ours stronger.”
While his wife may have always been fighting for priority over the cows, they built a strong and loving marriage. They had four children in total, tragically losing two at young ages. They lost their son when he was just four and a half years old from a brain infection, and their daughter when she was twenty-one from a car accident. Even after such unfathomable tragedy, Robert and his wife defied the odds.
“They told us when our son died that our marriage would probably break up. That’s what the social workers and doctors said in the hospital. That most times when there’s a catastrophe like that in a marriage, the marriage breaks up. But I think if anything it made ours stronger.”
After listening to someone share such a painful experience, the natural question that I always ask next is “How did you get through that?” And what I’m beginning to find, is that the answer is always the same:
“That was God. God comforts us and takes us through it. Like when our daughter died, our daughter died at 2 o’clock in the morning, at 5 o’clock in the morning we were both down at the barn milking cows. That’s God. God helps, God comforts. Its the only answer that I can give. Its the only answer that there is.”
“…I wasn’t really any more saved than that chair right there. That was the biggest turning point in my life.”
Robert’s faith has pulled he and his family through a number of dark and difficult times. But he didn’t always have the faith that he does today. When he was in his mid-twenties, he would have told you he was a Christian, but it wouldn’t have carried much meaning.
“I was a deacon in the church. I had been baptized and seemingly accepted the Lord but didn’t really know the Lord. I wasn’t really any more saved than that chair right there. That was the biggest turning point in my life.”
When Robert was twenty-six years old he raised a young bull, who was fairly mild mannered and acted more or less as a pet, as much as a bull can be. One day, without warning, the bull knocked Robert to the ground, stomping all over him. After that incident, Robert realized he could have died not knowing the Lord, and decided it was time to make a change.
“I was watching a tv program and the tv pastor gave an invitation for people to accept the Lord and I accepted the Lord from watching the guy on tv. That really changed my life. That turned me around. Made me a 100% different person than what I was. Much more caring and sharing, very different.”
A Passion for Farming, A Love for Life
“…I wish they knew how long of hours farmers work and how much they care about what they do…”
Robert has lived a full life with God by his side. Today, he is retired from the farm, having passed the duty of head farmer onto his son. You can see by the look on his face that his six grandchildren bring him immense joy and that he loves spending his retired days being their Pappy. Although, after talking with him, you would never know he was “retired”. He still loves what he does, and doesn’t think twice about helping out.
“Farmers work a lot of hours. I wake up at 5:30 in the morning and I’m still going at 10:30 at night. Which I don’t think anything about but other people who aren’t used to those types of hours would think a lot about it. I like what I do so it isn’t really work to me”
Farmers, even when they’re almost seventy like Robert, can work upwards of 100 hours a week. I can tell you after spending five minutes watching Robert and his family, that they are the definition of hard working.
“If I’m sleepy raking hay I just lay down in the hay and take about a five minute nap and then I’m fine. Either do that or I make crooked rows.”
I think we all know that farming today isn’t what it used to be. Every farm doesn’t have a farmer on it; one farmer could be caring for multiple farms. People are no longer slowing down their cars to see what the workers are doing in the fields. If anything, they are impatiently honking their horns as a tractor makes its way from one field to another. Often, no one thinks about the farmer behind the wheel. I wanted to know what Robert would say to those who just don’t quite understand.
“I think they should think about where their food comes from. I wish they knew how long of hours farmers work and how much they care about what they do, how much they actually are concerned about the fact that the world needs food and are trying to produce food for the world.”
While today being a farmer isn’t on the list of most common or understood professions, Robert really wouldn’t have it any other way. The farm is a unique place, unlike any other.
“I like producing something from nothing. I like planting a seed and watching it grow. Taking care of it and it turning out to be a good crop. I like taking a Heifer calf and growing her, raising her, seeing her have a baby and be a good milk cow. Producing something from nothing. The farm is one of the few places where you can use the farm and it produces every year, sometimes more every year, and it replenishes itself, and the next year its right ready to do the same thing again.”
My time with Robert showed me that it is truly possible to love what you do every day. To wake up with enthusiasm to breathe another breath. To lace up your boots and make the day count. He shows us all what it means to work hard and love one’s family with equal effort. He’s a man of faith and a farmer to the core. I’m confident that all who have been blessed to know him, have been changed by his example.
“I’ve liked every stage of my life. I’m now almost 70 and I still enjoy life every day and I’m excited about getting up in the morning. I don’t mind being old, I’m still enjoying life.”
– Want to read more from Robert? Check out the Living Lessons page