I’ll admit it. Growing up I was naive to how my food actually got to my table and what farmers did to get it there. I understood neither the struggles nor the joys of farm life.
My dad grew up on a hog, beef and dairy farm, but I never had the opportunity to experience it. Destroyed by fire before I was born, it was sold. As a city kid, I often heard my dad say, “Everyone should have to grow up on a farm.”
In college I met and began dating a farm kid, Amy Manske. My first visit to meet her family included a day of picking rocks. I quickly understood why her weekends home were far from relaxing. In October, I officially joined a farming family (and became a forever rock-picker) by marrying Amy.
I’ve been fully immersed by the “farmer schedule,” and as someone not used to long, physically laborious days, it’s exhausting. I help milk and feed the cows, feed calves and clean the parlor. I find the calves relaxing. (I’ve heard of puppy therapy, but is calf therapy a thing?) I’ve named a few of them and Amy’s mom gives me updates on how they are doing and of new arrivals.
The cows on the other hand can be stubborn and cleaning after them seems endless. I once scrubbed the parlor walls until they shined. It didn’t take long for one cow with a strategically-aimed butt to change that.
I’ve learned that farming has many routines with plenty of curve balls thrown in. When the silo broke, as the new guy I was recruited to haul what felt like hundreds of wheelbarrows of feed until 1:30 a.m. because the cattle can’t go hungry. Those are the days I can’t believe farmers keep farming.
A small piece of the puzzle
I now know where my dad became so knowledgeable about things, and my father-in-law is one of the smartest men I know. Seeing (and sometimes helping with) the labor that goes into each day gives me great appreciation for farmers. Many farmers are a caregiver, veterinarian, midwife, mechanic and business person, in addition to being a spouse and parent.
Agriculture is lucky to be made up of so many knowledgeable men and women. The education, diversity and passion I have seen as an onlooker in the Wisconsin ag community is impressive. I work for the Wisconsin Department of Tourism, promoting everything that is awesome in our state, which includes ag-tourism. I have met some remarkable people involved in ag-tourism and seen the diversity and opportunities we have. Tourism and agriculture are two of our state’s leading industries and it’s an honor to be involved with both.
I never thought I would grow to like farm smell in my car or the dirt under my nails. I enjoy spending time at the farm and I think that shocks Amy. She may not say it, but I know she is impressed when I drive by on a tractor or put a milker on a cow. She rolls her eyes when she finds me out back by the calves. As someone who grew up feeding them every day she doesn’t get my fascination. I know both of our families (especially mine) are surprised at my willingness to help out.
Farming has given me new perspectives about life. I’m no longer a consumer who doesn’t give thought to where his food comes from. I could not farm every day. For those who do, I respect you.
It’s true what they say: agriculture is more than a job; it’s a lifestyle, a passion. I like to think I’ve become part of this community as a part-time farmer and a Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation member.
I’m fortunate in many ways to have married the farmer’s daughter.
Jonathan Eckelberg is the digital content specialist for the Wisconsin Department of Tourism where he works extensively with travelwisconsin.com. Originally from West Salem and an alumni of UW-Green Bay, he is the husband to WFBF’s Director of Communications Amy Eckelberg.