Earlier in November I had the opportunity to visit my aunt in Arizona and to help her celebrate her 98th birthday. Born on a farm in northeastern, IL, this woman has had quite a life as she has lived in cities including Los Angeles, Boston, and Chicago as well as traveled internationally. With little prompting, Aunt Vi loves to talk about growing up on the farm. As I listened, I couldn’t help but think about how life has changed for farm women over the past several generations.
My aunt spoke as if it were yesterday about bridling her horse, Beauty, each morning to herd the cows to the pasture and then doing the same each day after school to bring the cows back to the barn for the night. She told me how one fall and winter she and Grandma were “in charge” of the farm while Grandpa was working on another farm some 20 miles away. Each morning, before school, my aunt and Grandma would milk the cows and then load the milk cans in the buggy. With Beauty providing the horsepower, Aunt Vi would take the cans of milk, one from the night before and one from the morning, to the streetcar station in town. There she would unload the milk cans. At 11 years old, less than five feet tall and about 75 pounds this was quite a task. But she said if she timed it right, the streetcar would arrive just as she was backing the buggy to the ramp and the conductor would help her pull the milk cans from the buggy. Each time I look at the milk can that is now a decoration on my porch, I can’t help but thinking about those wintery mornings and seeing my Grandma and aunt caring for those cows.
Like my Grandma, Aunt Vi, and my Mom before me, I have the opportunity to be a partner in our family farm. Although we do not milk cows, our farm involves growing corn and soybeans. My fall days are not spent herding cows, but rather driving a tractor or combine. After the crop is harvested, I find myself preparing annual reports for our landlords and working with my husband to secure inputs for the coming crop year. During the winter months I will attend meetings and conferences representing local corn farmers as their director to the Illinois Corn Marketing Board. Also during these months much of the corn and soybeans that we have grown will be sold and delivered to our customers, both domestically and internationally.
Each time I walk outside and pass that milk can, I think about the many women and men who have had the opportunity to grow food for our brothers and sisters around the world. It is a privilege to work on the farm today, to be a part of this effort to feed the world, and to have grown up with a love of the land in my blood, passed down from my Grandma and Aunt Vi.
For them and for all the strong farm women like them, I continue the legacy and look forward to sharing the joy I get from the farm with my children and grandchildren.
Illinois family farmer, mom, wife &