The past few days have been full of visitors and I didn’t look forward to the visits. I read an essay by David Sedaris a few years ago where he commented on how when others come into your home, you begin to see things through their eyes and it’s not always pretty. I felt like this as I prepared for the visits, worrying about how messy my farm looks, and seeing how much I would have to do to get things like I want them. But when the visitors arrived they didn’t seem to see what I saw.

The first group consisted of about fifteen teenagers from churches in Little Rock. It was spring break and their leaders had organized an “ecological adventure” that consisted of visiting two farms and working on them for a couple of days. My farm was the finale.

Wednesday was their main workday and the kids helped me move two groups of pigs to new paddocks, move the cows to a new pasture, and haul rocks to fill in some sink holes. Working with them in what was a very normal sort of day for me I did get to see the farm through someone else’s eyes, but it wasn’t the mess of the place or all that stood undone. These visitors helped me see the wonder of the farm and the delight of it. They loved herding the cows along to a new pasture; they had great fun trying to pick up the quickly growing pigs that were born a month ago; they enjoyed the work of throwing rocks in a mud puddle to fill in a hole—the farm was a place of fun for them. At one point I heard one of the kids say, “I wish we could do this every spring break! Just go around and work on farms.”

The other group of visitors came on Sunday. They were a group from Heifer International, an international development organization that works to alleviate global hunger. They are headquartered in Little Rock and many of the people who work there are regular customers of my farm. I have served on several local farmer panels for various Heifer events and supplied food for some of their meetings, so a few of the staff wanted to come and see what they had been hearing about.

The day was beautiful and I was dreading it. Kids might not see the mess of the farm, but here were a group of people who no doubt saw a lot of farms and would see mine for the mess it is. I put some hay on a trailer for a hay ride and pulled the group around to various stops to show them the farm. Toward the end of their visit we stopped and they asked me several questions about how I’d come to farm. I gave them a little of the background—that I had become interested in farming when I was living in Chicago and that I had decided to move back to the place I felt most attached to to make a go of it.

“Do you feel you’re living a dream?” the husband of one of the staff members asked. I stumbled on the question. I didn’t feel like it was a dream with all of the bills piled up, the work to be done, the stress of having to actually go sell something to make enough money to feed my animals for another day. “I answered that sometimes it was, but there is a lot of stress involved.” “In the job I just left,” he said, “I worked for eight hours a day in front of a computer, answering e-mail.”

Gratefulness has never been my strong suite. I am a goal oriented person and when I get one thing finished I move on to the next and forget to be thankful for what I’ve been fortunate enough to accomplish or have. But with these visitors I was given new eyes on what I am doing in farming and I do feel grateful for the opportunity. With all of the stress of the work, all of the lean months robbing Peter to pay Paul and feeling overwhelmed by the monumental task of making a living from a piece of land, I do have it good and I am grateful for that and to the people who help me stop to see it.  

This article originally appeared in Plenty in April 2007.

Copyright Environ Press 2007

Seeing things through others' eyes
Visitors show an Arkansas farmer how much he has to be thankful for.