Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

A City-Raised Woman Discovers The Farm

February 7, 2005

You met the man. You love the man. You marry the man. Yet this is no ordinary man. He is a farmer.

He has another love. He loves farming. He loves the idea of raising a family on a family farm. He loves cows. He loves dirt. He loves to work hard to make his dreams come true. What is not to love about a man like that?

You also have other dreams, other loves but not the kind that rival the passion he brings. Your dream also includes a loving partnership with a man who cares about you, enjoys your company and who wants to share a life with you. You also want children and a family life that is wholesome and is filled with togetherness as you reach for common goals.

Can you learn to love another person’s dream? That is a good question. You say to yourself, "It shouldn’t be too hard." Farming is a noble profession. The family is out on the land working together, somewhat isolated from neighbors and the hustle and bustle of city life. You can have a greater sense of family on a family farm.

You have heard the virtues of rural life many times: how good it is to raise children on a family farm, the values and work ethic, and the opportunity to contribute and be a part of something larger than themselves. You’ve heard about caring neighbors and community. You look forward to becoming close with your husband’s family and relatives.

There is a part of you that likes the outdoors, animals and experiencing nature. You like the idea of being your own boss, of building and watching something grow through your own efforts.

You can do this, you can learn to love the lifestyle. How hard can that be?

But farming and ranching is another story. It is an acquired taste. That will take some work. Your naivete and your love for your husband prepares you to take a leap into that great unknown. Under the best of circumstances, it can be a shock.

It can take three years, five years or even longer to get up to speed on the ins and outs of farming so that you can be a true partner on the land. And that is if your husband, in-laws and new country friends are patient with you and help you understand this new world you are in.

One woman reports on her adjustment to country living, "When I saw all the things that farm women do, my self-esteem took a tumble. Then I thought, ‘I don’t even like doing all those things.’ And if I didn’t make an effort to learn, I’d feel guilty."

She goes on, "I kept asking a lot of ‘dumb’ questions and learning so I could feel like a partner with my husband. If I hadn’t done that and hadn’t insisted on being a part of the decision-making, I have the feeling I’d still be on the outside looking in on ‘their’ farm and ‘their’ business."

Some men may not be good at explaining things or worse yet, expect you to know how to do things the right way at the right time the first time. A husband’s patience and sense of humor will play a part in whether this is a relatively painless experience - or worse.

What is the sticker shock that comes with farming? It is labor intensive and management intensive. It is biologically driven - needs driven just like newborns and toddlers need attention when they need it. The farm or ranch doesn’t operate by the clock or by a 40 hour work week. It can be powerful and consuming. It can eat you alive with stress.

It is weather driven and reactive. Plans change. Hailstorms, droughts, blizzards, breakdowns, disease - you haven’t seen them yet but you will.

It is a business with a large work commitment, large capital investments, thin profit margins, and requires incredible risks in a marketplace largely outside of one’s control. And the work is just outside the door. There is debt, large debt, debt that you can hardly imagine…and your supposed to keep track of cash flow, depend on your faith, good fortune, the weather, the markets and trust that it will all work. The sacrifices are for that ‘great tomorrow’ - that tomorrow that appears just over the horizon.

What is there not to like about farming and ranching? A lot. Can you learn to love it? Yes, but the lifestyle, the love and companionship with your husband, and what farming does for children make it worthwhile. That is the engine that drives family farming. Otherwise it is too hard. It requires too much and delivers later rather than sooner.

Can you learn to love it? Yes, if it is profitable. With heavy debt and stress, the lifestyle, love and togetherness dry up like the weather. It may take you a few years to see the big picture, to see the accomplishment and to trust that dreams can and do come true. You will need to trust your husband’s optimism, management and skill to carry you through the down times.

His dream needs to become your dream. You share the dream.