I remember as a child when my parents would tell me that certain tasks “build character”. It generally applied to things that I wasn’t sure that I wanted to do, and I recall mentally rolling my eyes every time that I heard the expression as a teenager. As often occurs, the cycle continues over generations and I find myself telling my own girls the same thing. There are many things that happen on a farm that build character, and one of the best parts of being a mom/farmer is using those tasks to help my girls learn both good work ethic and a humble empathy.
My favorite blonde cowgirl announced after the blizzard last February, “I have enough character, I don’t need to scoop any more bunks!” I replied, “Yes, you do because the cattle need for you to clean the snow off their plates so that they can have fresh breakfast.” We scooped bunks for two days during the storm, and I may have to admit that Megan’s Mama also thought at some point on the second day that her “character cup” was full. However, we persevered through the task because it was important to the livelihood of our animals.
Earlier this week, I talked about information that cattlemen need to know to properly care for cattle during the heat of the summer. If you recall, one of the major mitigators of heat stress is a constant supply of cool and clean water. In Nebraska, we are blessed to live above the deepest part of the Ogallala Aquifer and it provides us with fresh 58 degree water despite hot air temperatures. My cowboy has the responsibility of cleaning all home pen water tanks weekly, and the water tanks in our hospital pens 2X per week. When he goes on vacation, someone else must do the job.
I decided that Megan was the perfect girl for the task!
There are life lessons to be learned everywhere that we look. In fact, Megan’s weekly quote on the crew board in the office this week reads “Everyone can teach you something.” Physically washing the water tanks at the feed yard reinforces the critical animal care lesson of always providing the basics of life. Our cattle deserve fresh feed and clean water each and every day, and there is no better way to understand that then to be a part of the process. Washing water tanks is one of the most menial and yet the most important tasks that happen every day at the feed yard. The person who cleans tanks is undeniably the unsung hero.
Growing food is a naturally dirty job. You never truly realize that until you go to work as a farmer. Megan may choose a life path outside of agriculture, but she will never fail to appreciate the food on her plate or the hard work of the person who put forth the effort to grow it. She will never forget because she lived it. The character that she steadily builds with the scoop shovel and the tank cleaning brush permanently changes the way that she looks at the world. She intrinsically knows that each effort that she puts forth each day creates sustainability — no matter how menial the task may be.
There are two words that provide one of my favorite mantras: Life Matters. Learning to respect life, to positively contribute to its sustainability, and to give of yourself to help those in need are all consequences of building character. It isn’t usually romantic, often it involves dirt and sweat, and it is rarely easy; however, having the humility to recognize what it takes and the work ethic to take on the challenge creates a successful contributor.
No matter what I accomplish in my professional life, my true report card is the character of my children. It is awesome when instilling those values in my girls fits seamlessly with the work of growing food.