by Carey Guhlke-Falk
Some of my earliest childhood memories are of harvest. Perched on the armrest of my dad’s seat in a Gleaner combine, I would be mesmerized by the endless rows of wheat stalks that were carefully and lovingly gathered into the header of the combine and then brutally cut off at the knees. I often imagined what it would be like to be a single kernel of wheat, travelling through the belly of a monstrous beast- thrashed and pushed along- to fall onto a mountain of its unrecognizable friends, naked and stripped of their husks. Honestly, for me, harvest usually meant an increased does of Claritin, and long nights of wheezing between puffs off an Albuterol inhaler. I always thought there was irony in being a farm kid with severe allergies and asthma. But despite the pain, I loved it. I loved the dry heat and sweat running down my back. I loved the festive feeling and big, harvest dinners. I loved the crunch of stubble underneath the truck’s tires and satisfied sadness I felt when I looked across a finished field. I loved the family tradition, connection to the land, and deep feeling of community during harvest.
There are few farmers who will wax poetic about their emotional ties to farming and harvest. They’ll mumble something about yields and whether or not it’s a “good year”. You’ll hear about market prices and wheat varieties and what they’ll fail to mention is that their heart skips a beat each time they crush a head of wheat in their hands. They won’t mention the feeling they get when they see their kids and grandkids climbing into wheat trucks or gathered around the table at the end of a day in the field. They keep to themselves the emotional bruises they receive when their livelihood is on the line each time it doesn’t rain, each time it does rain, each time it’s too hot, each time it’s too cold, each time they take a risk – and fail – because failure happens in farming, often. What you need to know about farmers is they’re a forgiving, flexible bunch and simultaneously hold themselves to a very high standard. They’ve learned to live and let live. They’ve learned they don’t have control over the outcome. They’ve learned to be kind and forgiving to themselves and supportive of each other. And they worry day and night about all of that. They’re actually pretty emotional and very passionate about what they do.
But you won’t see that. What you’ll see are little gray hairs dusting the hairline of the young, 30-something farmer and thinning hair on the seasoned farmer. You’ll see leathery skin, conditioned by hard work and the elements… deep, dark eyes that look to the skies and talk to God every day, sometimes begging for mercy, sometimes throwing up an exasperated ‘thanks’ after a close-call. But really, all it takes to experience their emotion and passion for farming is to watch them work. Look on the horizon and see the silhouette of a combine pouring grain into a truck – the start of a long journey for those single pieces of grain. Take in the love-hate relationship farmers have with their machines. Notice the way they look out over the field – good or bad yield – and sense the pride they have in what they’ve helped to create and grow. Farmers work directly with God every day, you know.
All of this to say, you have an opportunity to experience this first-hand during the 16th annual Vintage Harvest.
These. Old. Farmers. Truly, these are the men and women who have spent their entire lives in the dirt and what do they choose to do in their retirement? Re-create harvesting from an era where things were harder, closer, more vulnerable – more emotional. It’s the emotions that drive them to do it – the nostalgia, the tradition, the heartache and triumph. Our community was built around dry-land wheat farming and these old farmers pay homage each year to our heritage during the Vintage Harvest. They recognize where we came from, how far we’ve come, and tip their hats to what’s to come. You have an opportunity to see the harvest crews at work, experience being in the field first-hand (which, is a very different view from the roadside!), and partake in a traditional harvest dinner. Most importantly, you have an opportunity to talk to the farmers about their feelings about farming. They’ll most likely mumble something about yields and whether or not it’s a “good year”, but now you’ll know what that means.
The details: 16th Annual Vintage Harvest at the Big Red Barn (Straub Barn), 2 miles East of Davenport on Highway 2. August 22nd & 23rd. Harvest starts when the machines start. We love-hate them. BBQ Lunch available both days. Traditional Harvest Dinner, August 22nd @ 5pm. Pre-purchase tickets from Crayton Guhlke, Gene Stuckle or at the Lincoln County Museum. All proceeds benefit the Lincoln County Museum and Historical Society. Let’s help preserve our history as we’re creating it.