Like many farm families, our kitchen table is the gathering spot for people, piles of mail, food to enjoy and good conversation. It is worth some reflection of how that has changed or maybe not changed over the past years, especially in 2020.
    Because of COVID-19, the farmhouse table, which in our case is a long island style with taller stools, has had a bigger crowd these past few months. Our three college kids were home in March with the University of Minnesota canceling in-person classes. They proceeded to fulfill the requirements of spring semester from home on their laptops. The table was filled with food and people for three meals a day.
    My duties as food manager were taxed as I tried to keep up with groceries, preparation and clean up. This part of farm life has never been my favorite, but I am learning. Thank goodness the rest of the family helped with the chores outside so I had more time for these tasks. They helped with cooking too. The result: typical meals to enjoy with more time together and some exchanging of ideas pertaining to farm decisions and college learning than we realized we’d be having. That was a really bright spot. I loved a recent conversation about the merits of various reproductive programs including which bull sorts to use and hearing everyone participate in the pros and cons.
    During the past summer, the table was still full for most meals, although food sometimes needed to be easily accessed as people dined more on their own schedules, with jobs, field work and other reasons.
    In June, the end of the kitchen island was occupied with several slabs of beef ribs being salted as preparation for an outdoor pit barbecue roast which lasted for several hours. The beef was roasted by a friend from Brazil who wanted to show our sons how it was done by his family on their ranch. Later in the fall, their friend from India prepared an Indian meal for us with special cheese and spices. Both meals were delicious.
    In late summer, the table was not as full as our daughter Emily accepted a new job and went to Vermont for training for several weeks. In September, the college guys moved back to their fraternity house on campus but came home several times to help with harvest and chores. Sometimes only Rolf and I sat around the island, but often there were many more people with the kids returning and their friends who had come to the farm for visits. What a great way to get to know their friends and significant others.
    This continued through the fall. It led me to think about the times when I had first come to our farm to visit Rolf when we were dating. I sat in the same kitchen around the typical large wooden farmhouse table with his family and joined in the conversation. Rolf’s dad, Carl, sat at one end and Lois mostly bustled around serving food and never really sitting until maybe the very end of the meal. Carl would ask me the best questions about farms where I had interviewed people for my writing jobs. I didn’t always have answers. Conversation would usually end up on the tasks planned for the day or the local news.
    Then after marriage and starting our family, the table included our children in high chairs and booster seats. The Peterson boy cousins, their parents and Aunt Kirsten often visited the farm, and the table got really full and overflowed to the dining room.
    We remember Emily proclaiming at about age 2, “Michael is dooty!” when she noticed manure on his arms from the morning milking. It’s encouraged to try to wash up before dining, but we don’t get real concerned. There were many milk spills, bread crumbs and other messes. No one minded. Food was always appreciated even if not perfect. Many times my husband stated, “I like it that way,” (referring to the food I had made that was burnt, over-cooked, not warm enough, etc.).
    The weirdest thing about these recent times has been the change in how to handle holidays and birthdays around our farmhouse table. We usually include other family members or we go to their homes and sit around their tables. Together we enjoy the delicious traditional holiday treats and meals. This year because of the COVID-19 concerns, Thanksgiving, winter birthdays and Christmas meals were with our family or outside around a fire. These new experiences will surely make us appreciate our family gatherings around the table even more in the future.
    Around our farmhouse table there was always much talking and laughing. It is where people got caught up, asked questions, tried to make sense of events happening and planned their work for the day. It still is and hopefully always will be.
    Jean dairy farms with her husband, Rolf, and brother-in-law, Mike, and children Emily, Matthias and Leif. They farm near St. Peter, Minnesota, in Norseland, where she is still trying to fit in with the Norwegians and Swedes. They milk 200 cows and farm 650 acres. She can be reached at jeanannexstad@gmail.com.