Like many farmers throughout the state, our Labor Day holiday wasn't spent picnicking at the lake. Instead, we were busy chopping corn for silage.
Since we hire our neighbors to custom chop our corn, I don't get too involved with the process. I planned to spend a few hours with my bookkeeping computer until it was time for afternoon chores.
After I helped Grandma buckle the kids into their seats for the short trip to her house, I mixed up a jug of iced tea for the chopping crew. I was carrying the jug of tea out to the ag bags when my emotions got the better of me.
As I watched the chopper gobble up our corn and spit it out into the chopper box, I suddenly felt tears well up in my eyes and start running down my cheeks. The longer I watched, the faster the tears fell.
What the heck, I thought. Why on earth is chopping corn making me cry?
Hiding behind my sunglasses, I dropped off the tea and hurried back to the house, trying to figure out what was making me so emotional.
My first instinct was to blame my tears on pregnancy hormones. But I've learned that gestation doesn't usually create random feelings, it just amplifies feelings we would normally suppress.
Maybe my tears were tears of relief, I thought. Relief that we have a corn crop to chop at all. There was a time this summer when Glen was ready to throw the towel in, so to speak, convinced we wouldn't have a crop from the lack of rain. I tried not to think about crop failure and its consequences, but the thoughts dawdled around in the back of my head until it finally did start raining again.
Maybe my tears were tears of disappointment, I reasoned. Earlier that morning, I had been struck by the urge to do something fun together as a family on Labor Day, since school would be starting the next day. I knew we were planning to chop corn on Tuesday, so taking the day off to go to the lake would be a nice break before the crazy day and a nice way to celebrate the last official day of summer. But when I brought the idea up to Glen, he said that plans had changed and the chopper would be here at noon.
Maybe my tears were tears of transition. Dan would be starting Kindergarten the next day. Monika would be starting preschool. The Tooth Fairy finally came to our house for the first time, after nearly two months of tooth wiggling and listening to Dan tell people who asked his age, "I'm five-and-a-half with a loose tooth." Maybe that was just too many milestones for a mom to deal with in such a short period of time.
Maybe they were tears of mourning. It's hard to believe that our little boy is starting Kindergarten already. I'm certainly not worried about him going. Dan is beyond ready for this next stage of his life and I'm excited to see him grow in new ways. He already told his Kindergarten teacher at the open house, "I'm going to teach you all about farming since you don't live on a farm." But a little part of me mourns the end of his care-free, relatively schedule-free days here on the farm with us.
Maybe they were tears of vulnerability. After seven years of farming, we are starting to feel a little less like beginning farmers and a little more like established farmers, but there is still so much uncertainty.
We only own the 20 acres our building site sits on, so we rely on rented cropland and rented pasture to feed our cows and heifers. With crop markets where they are, the future of those rent agreements is uncertain.
We used to believe that we could buy our feed if we didn't have land to rent, but that doesn't appear to be true anymore.
One farming couple our age who purchased the majority of their feed already sold their cows. We're watching another successful young dairy farmer ponder exiting the business because he buys all of his feed and current feed prices make that business model unsustainable.
It scares me to think that this wonderful life we have created here, this place where we have put down roots and created a home for our family, that all of this is dependent upon a business in an industry rife with volatility and uncertainty, especially for those who lack the security of land ownership.
Most likely, my tears streamed for all these reasons. Why the sight of the chopper mowing through our corn brought these feelings to the surface, I may never understand.
But after the tears dried up, I smiled with appreciation for a good harvest. I prided myself on raising two confident young people who are excited to start new adventures in school. And I reminded myself of what I learned when we moved to Stearns County, faced with a completely uncertain future:
Have faith. Somehow it will all work out in the end.