Back on His Foot

Many of you following this blog or, in general, following the Prairie Heritage Farm story know how important it has been for us, and for the farm, to have my Dad so close by.

He's done everything, from fixing our machinery, to helping fashion a greenhouse within a greenhouse, building a brooder for our turkeys to driving a combine more than 30 miles to get our Emmer crop in.

He was a regular fixture on the farm -- sharing his bologna sandwiches, his cream soda, carrot sticks and his vast -- and I mean vast -- knowledge of everything agriculture.

That's just the way my Dad is: He's always there for you when you need him, whether you're his crazy daughter and son-in-law trying to start an organic farm, an old lady with a broken water heater or a stranger stranded on the side of the road.

In so many ways, my Dad embodies everything society romanticizes in a "farmer." Clyde is the ultimate farmer, not because of his ability to grow food or fix machinery, but because of the way he gives -- the way he is as a neighbor and a friend.

Which is why it was no surprise these last few weeks to see the community, the strangers, and the family my Dad has given so selflessly through the years, come out in full force to support him through a trying time.

The first week of December, Dad was burning trash out at my uncle Joe's farm -- the farm my Dad grew up on -- which had recently been sold after Joe's passing. Something in one of the burn barrels exploded and caught my Dad's feet, which were standing in some sort of accelerant -- oil or gas -- on fire. He was able to get one boot and his coveralls off, but the boot on his right foot shrunk up around his ankle. He was able to put himself out and luckily, found his phone nearby to call his girlfriend Toni. Toni rushed him to the emergency room and the doctors there immediately put him (and me) on a plane to Salt Lake City to the University of Utah Burn Trauma Center.

An Anonymous Letter

Dated January 4, 2010:

"Dear Jacob and Courtney,

I hope this letter finds you well. Though we do not know each other formally, I first learned about your farm a while back through the wonderful, ever-bustling young farmer community - and I have since enjoyed keeping up with your blog as you bravely began year one on your farm. As a fellow (landless) young farmer, I am inspired by your story.

As winter fields lay laden with snow, we look diligently forward to the sugars of spring. Enclosed is a little something which will hopefully make these days of winter a bit easier. Find strength in your fellow young farmers, and forge fiercely forward knowing that the good you do each day will find its way back to you.

keep following your bliss.

all the best,
from one greenhorn to another"

That "little something" was a one-hundred dollar bill. Also included was a sticker with a drawing of two hands holding up a fork with the words "Vote with your fork, with your vote, and your life". The Greenhorns, for those who don't know, is a vibrant group of people putting together a documentary on new farmers and building a movement at the same time.

If there had been a return address on this letter, this is what I would have put in the mail:

Dear fellow farmer,

This letter does indeed find us well, if not a little stressed about the upcoming season. I certainly appreciate you reaching out to us like this. If only you could have seen the enormous grin of amazement when I opened up and read your letter.

In the few months that we've begun our modest experiment, we've discovered an incredible community of encouragement and support that has only pushed us onward.

As (tentatively) landed farmers, we certainly hope you are able to move on from the landless stage. I can commiserate with the disconnection between what is in your head and what is on the ground. I understand that it is frustrating, but know that your passion trumps most impediments. With all the uncertainty of our situation, that is what I hold on to. Some days, encouragement is hard to find, within ourselves and in our relative isolation in rural Montana. But your letter serves as a reminder that we are part of a larger movement and that we are not alone, and for that we thank you.

If you find yourself in our neck of the prairie, please don't hesitate to stop by and say, 'hello'. We'd love to have you.

With much gratitude,

Jacob and Courtney
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