Progress and passion

About a month ago, we took a little jaunt across the state to Wisconsin Farm Technology Days. The event was known as Farm Progress Days, and though the name has changed, much of the main purpose remains. The newest of the new technologies in agriculture are on display, and the event is designed to educate and entice farmers of all kinds. Annually, 40,000 people enter the gates of this gigantic tent city, and this past week we were some of those humans. They had booths about construction, advancements in crops, livestock handling and machinery. Oh, the machinery. The questions from Henry and Finley were endless along with the lengthy and well-thought out reasons as to why we need this or that. Those kids find machinery fascinating.
Cora had spent every morning of the previous week uttering, “How many days until Farm Tech Days?” To say that all the children were looking forward to our annual trip was an understatement. Cora wanted to see the animals. Henry and Finley were discussing how much money they had and if they could buy any equipment. Oliver and Dane delight in the surplus of free pens and notebooks. Stacy and I enjoy watching the kids take it all in and the tent filled with home-crafted treasures. Beyond that, it always makes me feel a bit nostalgic.
I would like to believe that all farmers are cut from the same apron-wearing, garden-growing, salt of the earth cloth of humans. That we are all products of the generations that paved the way before us – the preservers, the quilters, the milk can toters, the homemade butter makers. This is not to say there are not those among us who still partake in these activities; only to note that we are in the minority. Progress is inevitable as our world changes. Though I often long for the past and its seemingly simple ways as I look in my rear-view mirror, I am not ignorant. I know it has to happen.
There’s a level of comfort that is hard to match when one is in the presence of so many other humans who are in the same line of work, the same way of life. You don’t have to talk about employee problems. Everyone has them. You don’t have to talk about supply chain issues. Everyone has dealt with them. You can hear whispers of, “Did you get your hay in before the rain?” “Boy, that rain came at just the right time.” There is a unique language spoken among those who are kindred spirits.
There are farmers trying to see the world through their newly-retired eyes. There are the ones trying to get a leg up on the ladder of agricultural success but struggling and hoping to find someone to give them a hand. There are young families filled with hope and anticipation for the future. There are grandparents who have made attending this event a ritual for all of the almost 60 years it has been taking place. There are multi-generational families who seek out ways to keep their farm successful as it transitions into less-experienced hands. There are the lifelong learners who are in a constant state of curiosity about where our profession is going. There are the business people trying to make a sale. And, we were all there together, sweating in the sun, smiling because this somehow is a passion for all of us. 
As we drove the back roads home, I was struck by the landscape of Wisconsin. The cement silos stand empty against a brilliant blue sky that no Crayola crayon can come close to. There were endless miles of 8-foot tall corn with the occasional irrigation system snaking its way above it divided by haphazard rows of trees marking the fields’ edges. Out of commission windmills stand sentry to farms as progress has left many of them abandoned. There are country churches that undoubtedly once had pews filled with suntanned farm children, whose walls still echo with “How Great Thou Art” but perhaps now boast a more geriatric congregation. There is evidence of growth; sprawling freestall barns, bunker silos, glistening silver grain bins. I couldn’t help but send a wish to the universe that the farmers who worked with the upright silos and windmills still had someone farming in their family. The train of progress can have a vicious conductor, and sometimes people are left behind as it keeps moving forward. It is the passion we feel for our chosen path that keeps us heavy in the seats despite changing routes.
I would liken the experience to being at a country music concert when the main artist stops singing mid-sentence and lets the crowd take over. It fills the arena with hundreds of voices singing along and has an incredible effect that has always made me feel like we really aren’t that different at the end of the day. At Wisconsin Farm Technology Days, it is that same level of camaraderie and heart-warming connection of, “We are all in this wild world of agriculture together.” Just like a concert, there are a few voices humming along, not quite sure of the words or where they fit into the scheme of farming; but overall, we’re all singing at the top of our lungs.
    Jacqui and her family milk 800 cows and run 1,200 acres of crops in the northeastern corner of Vernon County, Wisconsin. Her children, Ira, 14, Dane, 12, Henry, 7, and Cora, 4, help her on the farm while her husband, Keith, works on a grain farm. If she’s not in the barn, she’s probably in the kitchen, trailing after little ones, or sharing her passion of reading with someone. Her life is best described as organized chaos – and if it wasn’t, she’d be bored.


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