This past weekend, I got a chance to do something on the 4th of July I had never done before—spend it on a farm. Often times on the 4th, I am searching out a fireworks display to watch since I love this annual aspect of our country’s celebration. But this year was different, in a lot of ways.
This year, the 4th of July happened to coincide with a visit to our daughter’s in-laws who happen to live and work on a farm. Our daughter, son-in-law, and grandson were visiting from California and we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get to see them all within easy driving distance of our home. And it couldn’t have been a more pleasurable visit.
Besides the family time together and the chance to spend some fun time with our grandson, whom it just so happens loves to play with cars just like me; the 4th was an extra special educational day for me.
Since I had never been on a working farm before and since I am so interested in learning how things work, I asked my daughter’s father-in-law if he would be willing to show me all of his farm equipment and explain how it works. He gladly agreed.
Our education in farm life started with a chance to look inside a grain bin where we saw a portion of last year’s corn crop. Seeing these large cylindrical structures from the road is very common but until you look inside and see how much corn they can hold, you can’t fathom the enormity of the size of a crop.
Next I got an explanation of how a corn planter works. It was interesting to see how the planter was engineered to automatically dig a trench, drop a seed, follow it with a small amount of fertilizer to kick-start its growth and then cover it back over with dirt. And with the guide wheel at the far end of the planter, I learned how the perfectly straight cornrows we so often see are made. Being one who has an extreme fondness for perfectly straight lines, I could really appreciate this feature.
I then got to explore a newer planter that had a slightly different seed dropping mechanism that was used for planting sow bean.
This was my education of the beginning of the farming process. After a bountiful farm lunch that would re-energize any farm hands, graciously prepared by my daughter’s mother-in-law, we then jumped ahead many months to harvest time where we learned about a corn combine.
Climbing up the ladder and stepping into the cab, I could see that one would have a commanding view of the fields from this precipice. And from this high perch, one could look down on the bright green teeth with their sharp cutting blades as they made quick work of the corn harvest. The teeth, exactly matched to the span of the mature corn rows, would slash each stalk about a foot above the ground and then quickly shred the towering stalk spreading it in the field while rapidly shooting the corn up and into the next operation where the kernels were efficiently stripped from the cob for transfer in bulk to a grain truck.
Once the visual instruction portion of our training was complete, the highlight of our learning was a “hands-on” tutelage where we learned to drive a tractor. With a quick tutorial about the controls, we were off for a fun ride through the field. After a tight turn around a tree, I was encouraged to drive the tractor through very tall prairie grass, a path I never would have pursued off-road in one of my little cars. The grass easily bowed out of our way as the tractor forged its own path.
On my return, I had to show my fellow students that it was so easy it didn’t even require hands.
Our education in farm life concluded with a test of our marksmanship. I had not shot a rifle since high school when I was probably mistakenly selected to try out for the ROTC rifle team, a trial I failed miserably. But with the aid of an excellent teacher I must have lacked in high school, I went two for two in hitting our target, gallon milk jugs filled with water.
In addition to not just being extremely interesting to me, I realized that there is a very nice degree of precision in farming, an aspect a chemist like me working in an exacting analytical science can most appreciate. But I would never have gained this understanding were it not for the excellent teacher we had. A more patient, kind, knowledgeable, instructor could not have been had. And not just the wonderful knowledge I garnered from my lesson that day, but I gained a whole new appreciation for the excellent education that I know my son-in-law received growing up from his dad, our farm instructor for the day. And I look forward to the next time when my wife and I are lovingly welcomed back to the farm for our next farm lesson.