Generally, we think of a legacy as something of value left behind for people to remember us by. For many farmers, the land they have nurtured from season to season is a legacy they plan to leave for their family. However, a legacy can take on many other forms. A legacy can land or monetary. A legacy can also be one’s faith, ethics or reputation, setting an example to guide future generations.
Leaving a legacy means making an impact that will last long after you die. In Proverbs 13:22, it says “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children.” Is the farm the actual legacy or is the character built from farming the true legacy we give our children? Is a legacy something we have to touch or store in order to be real? Or, is it something deep within us?
We tend to save things for our children which we think they may want in the future. A favorite doll or game, treasured art projects or report cards showing progress through a tough year. I have totes for each of my kids with their treasures. For 25 years, Mark’s sister has been saving her children’s games, toys, books, newspaper clippings and knick-knacks only to discover they don’t want any of it. She was saving these treasures because of her memories associated with the item. When we helped her move to a smaller house this fall, many of those items didn’t make the move. She and her children still have the memories. This made me question if what I saved in the totes are things my children will really want as well.
My family (OK, my mom and I) are collectors of family items passed down through the generations. There is the hand-carved wooden butter bowl and paddles my great-great-grandmother used when she helped to homestead our family farm in the 1860s. There is Nana’s hand-crank glass butter churn from the 1900s and my grandmother’s ice box before electricity reached the farm. The legacy may not necessarily be in the items as much as the story shared from each generation. A story of endurance, determination, change and evolution. I’m sure they would never have guessed these items would be their legacy to me. Each generation cherishes the traditions of the previous but strives to improve their own time.
It seems like a few years ago we were newlyweds sitting on one side of the table talking with Mark’s folks about the future of farm. We had ideas and changes we wanted to make to the operation. It’s an old story. Dad grumbles the kids will lose the farm with all of the changes. The kids grumble Dad is stuck in the past. Both sides are grumbling about the same thing: change.
Now, we are on the other side of the table trying not to grumble about all the changes happening around us. Looking back, I realize Ralph’s grumbling was not so much about the changes but the lack of control. I hope we can learn from the past and improve how we handle passing on our legacy to our children.
Farming is many things. It is a business. It is a way of life. It is also a family tradition or legacy passed down through the generations. Throughout the years, the land has stayed constant, but the way in which we farm has not. A legacy doesn’t mean staying the same generation after generation but building upon the legacy left behind by others.
A family legacy encompasses the values and passions that fuel your family through stories and the way we lived our family values on a daily basis. What will we leave behind as the building blocks of our children’s future legacy on or off the farm? The legacy I would like to leave includes strength of character and faith, honesty and the ability to laugh. I wonder what item my grandchildren will treasure as a reminder of the legacy Mark and I left for them.
What is our legacy? A work still in progress.
    As their four children pursue dairy careers off the family farm, Natalie and Mark are starting a new adventure of milking registered Holsteins just because they like good cows on their farm north of Rice, Minnesota.