Farmers are a fiercely independent and individualistic group of people. We brag about working for ourselves. Being our own boss. Our success and failure rests squarely on our own shoulders. You have seen the image. A strong, ruggedly handsome man standing out in the middle of a lush green field of soybeans reaching up to his waist. His arms crossed in front of his chest daring the world to try and knock him down. You would think by the image that he is standing alone in that field, but as farmers, we know we are not standing alone. That has been evident around our place this last week.
    We have been busy washing, painting, clipping and cleaning to get ready for our sale. It feels like party prep work on steroids. Between the daily chores, harvest season and sale prep, our plate is pretty full. But we were not too busy to drop everything the moment we got the call from a neighbor.
    Greg had just finished his morning milking when he received a call from the emergency room doctor telling him his son had been in a work accident with possible brain trauma. The hospital was three hours away. It felt as if he had been suckered punched. Once he could catch his breath he called his neighbors in the valley. Within minutes, we were up to Greg’s place taking a crash course in how chores went around his farm. Greg had written a quick check list of how to mix feed and which cow to watch out for. We shooed him out of the barn and finished up the morning routine as they headed west.
    Despite all the craziness that is our life right now, it was kind of nice to escape to Greg’s and milk his 20 cows. In the blink of an eye, we had the cows milked, fed and the barn cleaned. Flipped a few switches and the springers and calf chores were done too. I began to wonder if this was a glimpse into what our future would be like in March if we decided to start back up milking.
    Dropping everything to help a neighbor in need is not a novel idea, so why are people surprised when farmers pull out of their fields during harvest to help a neighbor in trouble? Are people so disconnected to one another that they do not know it is just what you do? When I was in the hospital in a coma during planting season, Dale and Al stood in our yard waiting until Mark told them which field they could seed down in alfalfa for us. They knew we needed help, even if we did not say so.
    As we put the finishing touches on our sale event, we realize we are not alone. We are surrounded by friends and neighbors who are reaching out to help. Our kids have taken personal work days off to help clip and clean. Neighbors are volunteering to provide pick up service between the parking lot and the farm yard. Friends have been dropping off sweets and treats to help us keep the work crew fed. It almost feels like a death has occurred in the family, and in a way it has as we hit pause with our milking operation.
    Despite the image of the farmer standing alone in his field, we know we are never alone when we have neighbors who have our backs when we do not know which way to turn. It’s just what we do.
    Natalie, Mark and his brother Al, farm together near Rice, Minnesota. They milk 100 registered Holsteins under the RALMA prefix. Their four children are grown up and all involved in agriculture with hopes of someone returning to the farm. For questions or comments, please e-mail Natalie at mnschmitt@jetup.net.