Farmers have always looked out for one another in hard times. They know that nature is their superior, and time comes when nature’s blows are too heavy to bear alone.
That explains why I was driving through the dry, hayless Texas countryside last week with two round bales loaded on the trailer. We haven’t bought a round bale since the prices more than doubled from last year; instead, we moved our sheep, goats and horse to our river farm, where they have been surviving the past two months on mesquite, soapwood saplings, and dead hackberry leaves.
Just when we thought we would have to cull the herd prematurely, we learned that organic farmers in Iowa were donating their hay to Texans. These rain-drenched mid-westerners had a banner year for hay and had read about the devastating drought and fire this summer. They didn’t just read and shake their heads in sympathy. They offered to give nearly 30 bales to other organic farmers suffering in Central Texas. All we had to do was pay for shipping.
Shipping, yes. There was the rub. Sue Beckwith, president of the Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, took on the mission of finding truckers who wouldn’t take advantage of us. After dozens of phone calls and hard bargaining, but she finally found the right hauler. Moreover, she twisted Farm Aid‘s arm to donate $2,500 to the cause.
As a result, about a dozen farmers came to Coyote Creek Mill in Elgin to pick up their gift of grass. Our two bales were met with 30 hungry mouths. I dropped the bales under an old pecan, both for shade and the manure that would fertilize the stressed-out tree.
I grew up with Amish and Mennonite farmers traveling far distances to rebuild communities devastated by floods. They took their tools and strong hands and generous hearts, leaving behind double workloads for their families. I never appreciated their sacrifice until I had my own farm. It’s part of their culture and their religion.
The same ethic can be found just down the road from our River Farm, at a saw mill where I’ve been buying lumber for our barn. When I arrived last week, I was greeted with a strange site – a massive pile of blackened pine logs. Steve, the owner, has been hauling them out of the Lost Pines forest scorched by the wildfire. His brother and several church members had lost their homes in the blaze. He planned to mill the logs and give much of the lumber back to these needy families. The woods they loved and lost would become the walls and roofs of their new homes.
Hay and lumber. Feeding and rebuilding. These are the gifts and the stories that emerge from this once-in-a-lifetime drought. Nature may knock us down, but human nature lifts us back up.