This year has been difficult for many agricultural producers, and not only in the United States, according to the emails and letters I received recently from around the world. Yet, everyone, including farmers dealing with uncertainties, has reasons to be grateful during this holiday season.
Among many people who contacted me recently, a dairy and grain/canola farmer in Ireland wrote that he has been troubled and depressed for three days because he wants to sow crops but his farm ground is too cold and wet for the seeds to grow. He also asked, “Do you have any thoughts on sowing, and is this a stressful time for American farmers?”
I wrote back: “Planting and harvest are among the most stressful times for all farmers, because the outcome of farmers’ efforts depends much on planting and harvesting conditions. To make matters worse, prices for most farm products are low everywhere. Have you talked to your Agricultural Ministry office? It’s not the beginning of the growing season in Ireland yet, is it?”
Although I didn’t say this to my Irish correspondent, I remembered a humorous but pithy quote a folk singer delivered in a Kilkenny bar that my wife and I visited a few years ago during one of our trips to Ireland. The minstrel quoted the revered Irish poet William Butler Yeats as saying, “Only an Irishman can turn a fine spring day into a funeral dirge.”
Yeats’ tongue-in-cheek proclamation probably wouldn’t help the Irish farmer, I surmised, for he is too worried about surviving financially that he can’t feel joy even during the Christmas season. He wrote back a couple days later that he worries too much, and thanked me for listening and making some useful suggestions.
The episode started me thinking about the upcoming Christmas and New Year holidays. It’s not easy to be joyful and thankful when we are struggling to cope. Yet, adversity can make us better people, which is “something” to be thankful for during Christmas.
I remembered last week when I was in Little Rock, Ark., for a board meeting of the National AgrAbility Program. I witnessed how several people turn their economic hardship into opportunities to experience breaks from “barely making it” into having something to give to their loved ones in a most unexpected place – a restaurant.
Well before our meeting started I visited a Japanese-style eatery for dinner in mid-afternoon, where customers sit around a rectangular table that has a grill on which the chef prepares the meal. I was the first to be seated at an empty table, but soon seven women joined me and the chef appeared shortly thereafter to cook our food.
Three women who appeared to be in their mid-forties and were seated closest to me knew each other and chatted amiably among themselves while I sat quietly until a lull occurred in their conversation. Seizing the moment, I said hello and introduced myself as a visitor from Iowa.
“Please tell me,” I added, “What works for you and what doesn’t work?”
Crystal, seated next to me, responded quickly, “We don’t have enough good-paying jobs.”
The woman next to her said, “We can’t afford health care. We all work full-time but I’m on Medicaid. Last week my daughter was sick and I had to take her to the doctor twice. I got a bill for $600 that Medicaid won’t pay; I can’t pay it.”
The third lady nodded in agreement to both and added, “Whatever we do isn’t enough, so we make do.”
“What keeps you going?” I asked.
“We go to church and we go out to eat once a month. It keeps us sane.”
When the chef spooned our food onto the plates in front of us, I noticed he placed double portions of fried rice, meat, stir-fried vegetables and shrimp on the plates of everyone at the table but me. As our repast drew to a close, all the women had ample food still on their plates and each asked for two large boxes to take the leftovers home.
Crystal repeatedly commented that her two daughters who were in school would love what she was bringing home for supper. The bill for everyone was $19, even though I didn’t receive a double portion.
When we arose to leave the table, I mentioned, “I think I figured out what is going on. Every month you get together to treat yourselves and you take the leftovers home to feed your families.”
“You got it,” all three ladies chimed together.
“Thank you,” I said. I realized they had found ways to be joyful.
Crystal placed her hand on my arm as she voiced, “Merry Christmas to you.”
I also realized that the restaurant staff understood what these customers and their families were experiencing, and that’s why the restaurant served them double portions.
Merry Christmas, dear readers of “Farm and Ranch Life!”
The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of Farm World. Dr. Mike Rosmann is a psychologist and farmer in western Iowa. Readers may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org