Other duties as assigned

Internship takes me rock picking

Only two weeks into my summer internship, and I found myself fishing out boulders in the middle of a field in Todd County, Minnesota. My internship was supposed to get me off the farm, but little did I know that when I signed my contract to work at Dairy Star, “and other duties” would include rock picking.
Every year, Dairy Star hosts a Rock Pickers for a Day contest. Dairy farmers enter to win four hours of free rock picking compliments of the newspaper and Magnifi Financial. This year, Donnie and Carolyn Middendorf of Long Prairie, Minnesota, won. As the summer intern, I had the honor of partaking in the annual tradition by being on the rock-picking crew.
Growing up on a dairy farm myself, I am no stranger to everyone’s favorite spring tradition. So, I traded in my dress pants, laced up my sneakers and was ready to get picking with a smile on my face.
Rock picking was one of the first things since starting my internship that I was asked to do and knew exactly how to do it. In the two weeks since I have started, I have learned more than I could have imagined which is wonderful; however, being asked to do a mundane task like rock picking felt comfortable and gave me confidence.
That confidence quickly departed as soon as I stepped foot onto the rockiest field I had ever seen. No matter the task I do at Dairy Star, I get to experience something new. I was crazy to think my day would be anything less than exciting.
We had two wagons running parallel with each other that had five people picking on each. Donnie drove one of the tractors while his daughter Rachel drove the other.
The night before it rained 3/10 an inch, which was just enough to make it challenging to fish the rocks from the soil. Those who had pitchforks remained popular among the group because they could defy the grips of the dirt and pry the rocks to the surface.
Despite the tremendous amounts of rocks that glittered the field, we could not have asked for a more beautiful day to accomplish the rigorous task. It was 60 degrees and sunny with a perfect mid-morning breeze.
Additionally, we got to spend the morning picking rocks next to some very lovely ladies grazing on rye. It is hard not to stare at the brilliant bovines munching away and sunbathing, but the loud thunder of the rocks piling up in the wagon was quick to snap me back into reality.
We made it barely a quarter mile into the field before we had two heaping loads of rocks ready to be carried out. I found myself seriously questioning whether they purposefully grow rocks in Todd County.
At home, picking rocks is an entirely different experience. We have fewer rocks, much sandier soil, and my sisters and I make up our rock-picking team.
While the banter is always one of the best parts of picking rocks together, it can often be joined with petty squabbles. Like most families, the fighting stops as soon as someone gets bored of being upset or a big enough rock comes along that we need to work together to hoist it into the wagon.
At the Middendorfs’ farm, the 10-person rock-picking crew was much different than the all-female crew I grew up with. I quickly became accustomed to the benefits of rock picking alongside strong men. We made a fantastic team and hauled 10 loads of rocks from one of the Middendorfs’ fields.
After the long day of picking, Carolyn grilled us delicious hamburgers and hotdogs along with providing various refreshments. It is amazing how the dirt under my fingernails becomes a nonexistent issue when the smell of barbecue wafts through the air after a long day of work.
When I returned home that evening, my dad was curious to hear about what filled my day at Dairy Star that could possibly make my jeans caked with dirt. I proudly told him about my day’s adventure in the field.
My dad grinned and replied to me, “Perfect, you are all practiced up and ready to pick rocks for me next weekend.”


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