Farm Life

Farm Life

“A farm includes the passion of the farmer's heart, the interest of the farm's customers, the biological activity in the soil, the pleasantness of the air about the farm -- it's everything touching, emanating from, and supplying that piece of landscape. A farm is virtually a living organism.”  – Joel Salatin

If you’ve ever read my blog, you’re no doubt familiar with my lifelong relationship with farming.  Farming has always been more than a profession for me.  It’s been, at once, a passion, an obsession, and a puzzle with answers that constantly change.  The rewards in farming are great (though not necessarily always in the financial sense), but the challenges are unending.  I recently described the process of growing hay to a student working on a school project.  When I was finished describing how fickle Mother Nature can be – how she can destroy even the most beautiful hay crop in a matter of minutes – I almost felt like the bearer of bad news.

It’s true, though.  Running a farm requires a forfeiture of control and a stomach for disappointment; an understanding that your success or failure is equal parts in your hands and the oftentimes fickle hands of nature.  This would be enough to scare most people off from the thought of ever wanting to call themselves a farmer, and understandably so.  Everyone with a job has enough stresses to worry about.  Having Mother Nature as your boss is the last work arrangement most of us would want to enter into. 

But then there are the gifts.  Those moments that keep you coming back after a day of broken hydraulic lines, blisters, and a rained on crop of hay.  The feeling of the sun on your back as you pass back and forth rhythmically through the field, raking alfalfa.  What’s left when that sun disappears – the quiet, cool, dark solitude you experience as you pick up bales at midnight in July.  The satisfaction of providing a product that meets the basic needs of living things.  And, for many in the profession, the company of the spirits of generations past. 

I will always be the greatest advocate I can be for young and future farmers.  If they ask me, I will tell them that there are no guarantees of success in the profession – only the promise that when it happens, it will provide a satisfaction that is pure and profound.  For me, that’s always been enough.   

The Generosity of Family

Not only were both of my parents instrumental in creating Oxbow, but they also put in many hours of operational work too.  We printed and applied countless labels to plain bags in the early years in our efforts to control costs.  Some of you may remember some of those early bags.  Both mom, dad, Pat and I would work until midnight applying labels to bags for the next day’s packaging.   Sometimes, I am still amazed at what we did purely by determination and perseverance.  Mom and dad even “stuffed” thousands upon thousands of bags with timothy hay for nothing except a big “thanks until you are better paid.”  (That’s an “old farmer response” to a neighbor who had come to help with a farm chore.)  That’s what neighbors do…..and that’s what families do.  Here is a picture of mom and dad stuffing hay into a bag in their garage.  By this time, our garage was too small.  As mom’s health started to fail, dad actually figured out a technique where he could do the whole process himself.  Thank goodness we don’t still do it this way!

Kitchen Table Days

Mom and Dad were very instrumental in the beginning stages of Oxbow Animal Health, for which I will be forever grateful.  Together, with our farming background, we formulated some key, innovative ideas for nutritionally-premium products for small herbivores.  Helping us was the fact that we had witnessed and appreciated the effect of premium hay upon the health of our own farm animals.  But, how were we going to build distribution?  How were we going to create marketing materials?  How were we going to actually ship the products?  How were we going to control the costs of all of the different bags and boxes and labels and tape that were going to be needed? 

All entrepreneurs struggle with these decisions...and quite a few don’t make the right ones.  But, with Mom and Dad sitting around the kitchen table with Pat and I, talking through the “what ifs”, we were blessed to make enough “good decisions” to help us down the path that has led to where we are today.  For this, and so much else, I will be forever grateful to my parents. 

Remembering Mom

My mom, Mary, passed away 3 years ago, and this past month would have been her 93rd birthday.  My mom was a very special lady, as most moms are. I never saw her angry (with me anyway, but my sisters were another story.  Just kidding.)  Everyone had a common perception of my mom - that she was “such a sweet person.”   This was a common sentiment shared at mom's funeral, and I know they will say the same at mine..."His mom was such a sweet person!”

The photo above is part of a very touching and meaningful memorial that the employees of Oxbow made for my mother.  This plaque accompanies a beautiful oak tree planted in my mother's honor at Oxbow. 

Thoughts on a Photograph

An Oxbow employee paused to take the above picture on his way to work this morning.  There’s so much about this that I love.  The vast expanse of land and sky.  The post-daylight savings sun rising later, promising more daylight later in the day.  The farmland, unencumbered by buildings.  The last notes of winter, giving way. 

What I love more than the photo itself is that fact that it exists.  That someone who works for Oxbow cared enough about the landscape to pause, snap a photo, and share it with the rest of us.  I am proud of my heritage – how I grew up on a farm, raised my children on one, and have my business there.  In the same way, I’m honored to have employees who appreciate the beauty of the country, and who are willing to escape the city and make a slightly longer drive to make Oxbow the company that it is today.