They say you can tell a lot about a person just by looking at their hands. If that’s true, then my hands and the hands of every other farmer have quite the story to tell. All those calluses, scratches, cracks and scars may look like bothersome little things at first…but how they all got there points to millions of memories that weave together into the legacies that continue from one generation to the next.
When I think of agriculture and farming, I think of family…most of all, the hands of the farmers in my family. I can picture the hands of my great-great-great grandparents, Fried Wilhelm and Anna Statz resting on the side of a ship as they sail across the ocean from Germany to a new life in America, eventually carving a homestead out of the rolling hills of western Dane County where they would raise nearly a dozen children; only three saw adulthood.
Some decades later, I imagine a country at war and two brothers – my grandpa and his brother Oscar – drawing straws to see which one got to go off and fight, and which one got to stay home and run the farm. Family legend has it that Uncle Oscar drew the short straw on purpose so his Grandpa didn’t have to go to war. His hands, together with Grandma’s (who is also named Anna), raised nine children and ushered in a new age of agricultural innovation, taking the farm to a level of production and prosperity that previous generations had only dreamed of. They also folded together in prayer without a second thought, as Grandpa believed in living by example.
I see my dad’s hands, too. Even though he left the farm, years of working besides Grandpa and his siblings brought the wear and tear that only a kid who’d worked hard all his life would show. Dad’s oldest brother, who took over the farm when Grandpa retired, was always able to count on the hands of his family. And – eventually – my hands enter the picture. My pudgy toddler hands, clasped in those of my father’s or my uncle’s strong and weathered ones, took me all over the farm and instilled a love for the dairy industry that grows stronger by the day. Those pudgy toddler hands have evolved into the hands of someone who writes and farms; my fingers dance across the keyboard as I type this, and calluses are beginning to form on my palms. My nails, which were painted to hide the dirt underneath, are chipped and a diamond ring on my left hand sparkles at me.
Speaking of that diamond ring, I’m marrying a farmer of my own in a couple of months. His hands, though young, are cracked and callused. They’ve got the right balance of gentleness and power to deliver a newborn calf, and the determination and love that a beginning dairy farmer must have for this life. His hands and those of the farmers before him tell a story much similar to mine (except his family farm has its roots in Norway). When I see a farmer’s hands, I see more than calluses and cracks. I see a love for the land, animals and a family that runs deeper than anything on earth…and that’s what agriculture means to me.