COVID and changes in the newspaper and magazine world have meant I no longer have an opportunity to visit ordinary farm families and learn about their farm. We always visited farms when we travelled and that provided the opportunity to learn about a lot of different types of farming around our country and around the world.
Closer to home, too, I met so many interesting farm families just by going to their farm to do an interview and tour. I miss that.
Some families were flattered that I asked to do a story on them. Others were dumbfounded or suspicious when I called requesting an interview. That’s when I’d have to explain that it was my job as a reporter to spin the tale of one farm’s life. While farm families modestly told me they weren’t doing anything special, I told them that every farm family is unique. Other farm families would be interested in the story because they might pick up some ideas of little things this family did to simplify some task or they may simply identify with them and enjoy knowing there are other families out there who share their interests.
Often the stories were being done because the farm was planning to host an event like Farm City Day or a dairy breakfast. Sometimes I chose a farm because I heard the farmer was utilizing some new technology, cropping system, had some unique livestock or was raising an unusual crop. Sometimes I’d just choose a farm family I considered to be “typical” to interview to show non-farmers what farm families go through.
One thing I always did was let the farm family set the time for the interview. I know how hectic farm schedules can be and the last thing I want to do is ask a farmer to take time away from hay-making on the only sunny day we have all week.
And of course I would never think of showing up at chore time.
In those early years of reporting it was difficult to get farmers, especially the men, to tell me any details about what they were doing. I think they just assumed I would not understand. It took years of farm reporting to finally get them to trust me and realize maybe I do know what they mean when they are talking about what’s in their TMR or what type of attachment they are putting on their corn planter.
In almost every interview I did it seems like it was those little things that came out in conversation that ended up being the lead for my story. It was usually some little thing they were doing that made them successful.
Yes, it was my farm visits that made my job as a reporter so much fun over the years. Each family I’ve met is unique. Most are modest. Almost every farm family has a story to tell, a philosophy and some different ways of doing things that others might like to try.
As a reporter I rarely did a story where I didn’t come away from an interview with a smile on my face because farm families are so special and once I convince them I’m not up to something they gladly share their stories.