May 30 2024 03:02 PM

The land we work has been cared for by many generations before.

For some of us, farming is a new addition to our family. As first-generation farmers, it’s imperative to talk to older farmers, do research, and learn how to do things your own way. It’s okay to make mistakes, have some mishaps, and feel discouraged; even seasoned farmers will tell you that’s part of it. The important thing is that you keep going, keep trying, and never give up. Whether you realize it or not, you have a generation cheering you on every step of the way.

Then there are farms like mine that are multi-generational. The groundwork has been laid before us, but the stress of keeping the farm productive and profitable is constantly on our shoulders. We don’t necessarily want to “Do it like Dad did,” but we want to continue to keep the land, machinery, animals, and all that was worked for before us.

The other day, I was raking hay on a field we call “Cemetery Hill.” This field stretches from the main road up to the top of a giant hill. The hill consists of an alfalfa field at the top, corn in the middle, another alfalfa field to the left side, and a cemetery at the bottom right side. The cemetery is maintained and owned by my family and two other families in the area. Every time I’m raking, tedding, or assessing the field growth, I get this feeling that I’m being watched. It’s not a scary feeling; rather, it's more of a warm feeling, like I’m being smiled at and cheered on every round I make.

It wasn’t until a couple days ago that I realized that I probably was being watched. Most of the residents were once farmers. In the back left corner of the cemetery plot that borders one of our cornfields reside my great-grandparents. My great-grandmother was a schoolteacher, and my great-grandfather was the second generation on the farm when we switched from caring for our own to production agriculture. To the right of them and down the hill a little way resides one of my greatest mentors we lost two years ago.

The realization was kind of heartwarming, in a sense. I always felt like I was being watched, and to realize they were right there kind of confirmed they were with me. I know some don’t believe in spirits and such, but to me, I felt them with me. As I made the next few rounds, I thought of my mentor and the times we had, and then I thought about my great-grandparents and how I never got to meet them but hope they are smiling down on us as we continue to care for the same ground they once did.

Whether you are a first-generation farmer or multi-generational farmer, the land you are working has been worked by generations before you, and you can guarantee they are watching. After a long day in the fields, know that someone is up there smiling down on you. Keep the rows straight, your head high, and stay safe out there, folks.

Courtney Henderson

The author is a sixth-generation farmer and fifth-generation dairy producer in southwest Virginia, where she and her family own and operate a 145-head Holstein dairy. Courtney is involved in agriculture organizations throughout her community and is a graduate of Virginia Tech.