I grew up on a farm, and that’s not just a cliché.
I was born in 1968 and my dad started running the Pitts Farm in 1969.
It was all I ever knew.
Dad ran the farm like it was his own, the whole thing looked like a park and they were the best apples and cherries and peaches. He was a great farmer and a smart businessman, not much of salesmen, but amazing for a guy who stopped going to school in the 8th grade. He was the business manager and HR department and public relations officer and shipping clerk, all those things that farmers have to be that no one ever thinks about. And it was so cool, that’s what I wanted to do.
I remember driving my little toy tractor, pulling a little toy plow around a radish patch I had in the front yard.
I remember being a little bigger and riding my John Deere pedal tractor around the yard pulling a wagon that I had laid a garbage can in to make it my spray rig. Back and forth, across the yard, just like dad with his big tractor in the orchard.
I remember sitting at the kitchen table with dad as he went over his spray records in a big binder. I made my own note book, where I drew pictures of plows and discs and drags and explained how you used them in that order to get ready to plant apple trees. I was trying to show my dad that I was ready to work on the farm.
I remember being there when they planted apple orchards and what an exciting time it was. My dad and his brothers where there along with my grandfather and some other old timers. The rows had to be perfect, “so you could shoot the whole row with a rifle at once”
I remember riding on my dad’s lap on the old Ford Major as he pushed brush or pulled a sprayer putting Etherol on the Wealthys and Early Macs. I remember how he could split an apple in half with his hands.
I remember picking up rocks, lots of rocks.
I remember my dad's best friend seemed to be a man who brought his family to pick apples every fall, he didn't work for my dad, he worked with my dad. And even though his family had darker skin than mine and lived in Florida or on the road following crops, they became our family too.
When I got older, I learned how to drive tractor myself. I learned how to mow an orchard, and weed spray and cultivate. I learned how pick apples and cherries and thin peaches and load trucks. Learned how to drive a stick shift on a dump truck and plow a field almost straight. I didn't learn how to trim apple trees; I just knew how to do it. It’s something you can’t learn that, you either know it or you don’t. I think it’s a recessive trait, like blue eyes.
And then when I was in high school I learned something real important.
A good thing doesn't last forever.
I got home from school one day, and my dad didn't have a job anymore. For some reason, Mr. Pitts decided he didn't want to farm with my dad anymore. The only job I’d ever know for my dad and the place I’d grown up on wasn't there anymore. At 59 years old, my dad was out of a job. My brother and he signed up for unemployment. The people at the office couldn't believe that my dad hadn’t been unemployed since 1945.
Dad wasn’t out of work long, another farm owner knew a good thing when he saw it and hired my dad to work for him on his farm. And summers and after school, he hired me too, and I learned some more.
But dad had learned too. He’d learned he worked too hard for too long to make money for other people and to make their farms look good. He didn't want that for me. I had forgot a little of that little boy on dad's lap steering the Major, and thought I wanted to be a school teacher. I went to college, dad paid my way, and I tried teaching a little, and then got a great job at a company that helps teachers. I got to learn more, and see the country and even work with Ag teachers.
Dad finally retired a few years ago, now he’s 87. He has 8 acres of apples and peaches that someone else takes care of, while he takes care of mom. And we still talk about farming. We go for drives to look at orchards and see what’s new, and what’s getting old.
I have a good job that pays well and I have a nice cubical, with a nice computer monitor and no windows and no fresh air. I send e-mails and text messages and voice mails and talk on the phone. I'm stuck indoors, but I do get to help teachers daily, some of them Ag teachers with dreams of farming themselves.
I’ll be 45 this May, 3 years older than my dad when he started farming. I wish I was as brave as him. But there’s not too many apple farmers hiring desk jockeys and I can’t afford to buy my own. Maybe I could start my own business, and do something in the Ag industry and build it up so I could afford a farm.
Or maybe I’ll just man my desk for another 30 years and get a nice send off some day, but right now, I’ve got kids to get into college and a mortgage and bills to pay.
I’ll plant a nice garden this spring, and grow some radishes, and do what I can to help Ag teachers and farmers whenever I can, and dream about fresh dirt and straight rows, and diesel fumes and fresh off the tree apples.
It’s the best I can do for now, and it’s a pretty nice dream.
All I ever wanted to be was a farmer.
Professional and Technical Services Manager
Ward's Science is a Career Development Event (CDE) sponsor for the New York FFA Foundation. The funds they contribute help agricultural students get closer to experience agriculture as a possible profession and career.