The northern Texas Panhandle sky is as large as the land is flat, and a brilliant green and gold sunrise is a reward for being up at the crack of dawn. The silence of the still air is filled by the songs of mockingbirds and irrigation motors purring in the distance. Home smells like corn fields and dust. I’ve learned to not mind the gritty dirt that gets in my eyes and under my fingernails, because this soil has a greater purpose.
Farm life is challenging, humbling, rewarding, and not at all like a modern country song. The agricultural lifestyle is often romanticized, but I have witnessed my father’s frustration over market prices, unfortunate weather, and trends in health and government that reflect the public’s lack of consideration toward his trade. Talk about GMOs or what it means to be gluten-free with a farmer sometime and you’ll get an ear full of how unmodified crops are full of worms and how gluten is just wheat, so of course your peanut butter and your ketchup are “safe” from this beneficial nutrient. It’s a hot topic at our dinner table.
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Rather than being hardened by the rough unpredictability, I’ve seen my father’s compassion and care for others—and the land—grow throughout the years. His commitment and innovation brought my family from hunting just to have a meal to completely owning the flourishing business he built.
This business is a lifestyle that brings freedom, responsibility, and understanding of life in the simplest ways. Taking care of the corn, cotton, milo, and wheat pushes us through the seasons. Throughout the summer, we also grow most of the vegetables we need for meals, and trade the rest for eggs, or give it away in five gallon buckets by the church door. I’ve never had a dumpster, and I’ve never lived on a paved road, which meant a lot of flat bike tires growing up. My schedule revolves around harvest whether I am on the crew or not, but it usually goes smoothly when my brother, my parents, and I all pitch in.
PATIENCE AND INNOVATION
Growing things for a living demands honesty from a person, as you grow more comfortable with the realization that your control over the outcome of your hard work is limited. If the wind blows the corn plants to the ground, or the hail strips the cotton of all of its blooms, or the rain comes at the most inopportune times, you still care enough about the land to finish the year.
The patience and innovation that this life requires will soon not be enough to combat the depleting water levels and rising costs of operation. My father estimates that only ten more years’ worth of water sufficient for full irrigation is left in the aquifer in our area. Corporate farms of 20,000 plus acres are taking over the Texas Panhandle like a city takes over the countryside. I would be the sixth generation to farm in this family, but the days of making a living on a quarter section, as my great-grandparents did, are long gone. I’m sure my family would make room for me in their operation, but considering the competition, declining water sources, and the capital required to get into this business, this path does not seem like one I should pursue. I’ll take what I have learned from my farming experience and do what I can to improve the world, but this farm will not be home for long.
Leah Kimbrell is a landscape architect student at Texas Tech University in Lubbock