I recently attended the AgChat Conference in Austin, TX and had the privilege to be on a panel with two other persons, a mom who is food writer and a local chef/restaurant owner. Then there was me, a life-long agriculturalist. While our experiences, views, and beliefs differed, I left feeling like at the end of the day we might all agree on the following message: Agriculture is important, no matter who you are or what you do – it is essential for survival!
One of the talking points that came up during the panel was a rich farmer versus a poor farmer and where the line is drawn. I have been thinking about this for several days now and I wanted to get my thoughts out.
Growing up on a ranch we had access to horses, 4-wheelers, irrigation ditches to swim and play in, fishing holes, goose and duck hunting hot spots, and acres to learn to drive manual vehicles and ranch equipment on – it was essentially a 300-acre playground! We raised 4-H animals, our own food, sewed our own clothes, and could hunt and fish. We also believed strongly in family dinners, family projects on weekends, life celebrations, and good friends and neighbors. While we played hard, we also worked hard, very hard. We fixed our own vehicles and bought new-to-us equipment. We didn’t watch much tv, play video games, go out to dinner, or go on many vacations. In high school I could arm wrestle and beat the first-string football players and I could certainly hold my own in the weight room; all of the bale bucking and good ol fashioned hard work made me tough 🙂
I thought my childhood was awesome!
At no time did I ever think my family was rich. Monetarily rich that is. Wealth isn’t necessarily measured in number of cows, acres, or amount of equipment owned. We were rich in our knowledge, skills, work ethic, family legacy (my sister and I are the 4th generation), family and community love and support, and so much more.
I was my class Salutatorian, and was banking on the fact that good grades and some money in savings from the sale of 4-H animals would get my through college. It never dawned on me that other people thought my family was rich until I started applying for college scholarships as a high school senior. Several people wondered why I would need the scholarship money, my family was “rich ranchers” and could afford to send me to college! I was shocked that was the perception others had of my family. We weren’t (and still aren’t) fancy or rich people. But in the eyes of others my family had money, and lots of it because we had land, livestock, and various vehicles and equipment. Perception is an interesting thing…
I also never thought my family was poor. In our family, and with many others in agriculture, money is tied up in land, animals, equipment, and other assets. Ranch income was spent fixing up and/or making purchases of things that had been neglected over the past year. Because in ranching, you may only get one or two paychecks a year – when the calves and any open (non-pregnant) or crippled cows are sold! Talk about budgeting. So as a kid, and still today we knew that some months would be financially tighter than others. We also knew how to differentiate between wants and needs.
So as you can see, I struggle with the rich vs poor in agriculture. I think food production is one of the hardest professions, but also one of the most rewarding. And it doesn’t matter if you have 10 acres or 10,000 acres. The time and financial commitments, the long hours, hard work, and dedication are all similar concepts just on different scales. There are certainly those who are rich in agriculture, and kudos to them for making a profit with their livelihoods. But does that mean a person who may not have much money in agriculture is poor? Not necessarily, they could be rich like my family – rich with all of things that are hard to touch, see, and measure. You see I always thought my family was rich…
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13 thoughts on “Growing up a rich rancher’s kid…”
Thanks, Lindsay, for putting into perspective what it may be like to be a “rich” farmer! My own childhood on the farm was much like yours … right down to the college scholarship applications. But, we had a “crick” (creek) to wade in, apple trees to climb (and hide in) and an abundance of fresh, locally grown food from our garden (before we realized how lucky we were!).
Alice – what childhoods we had! Wouldn’t trade it for the world. The perceptions of rich and poor can be so very different. Even here in the U.S. wealth is totally different to someone trying to survive in a Third World Country. Thanks for sharing!
I love your thoughts Lindsey and thank you for being on the panel. I missed the panel because I was doing some behind the scenes work. When I read the article by Addie, I though “oh goodness, what was said.” Farmers are conservative people (and I don’t mean Right Wing). Conservative in a way that means you don’t talk politics, religion or money. It is hard to talk openly about finances and what a farmer/rancher is worth. You NEVER talk about what you are renting land for. On my family farm, we are centered near an urban area. Our land is valued very high. If you consider all our assets, we are millionaires. The difference between us and Bill Gates, is that our assets are not liquidable and tomorrow the value could plummet to nothing (say if a major gas line would come across it). Our high land value is juxtaposed against our milk prices (our income) and we don’t live in luxury. In fact, we live in the lower-middle class. I hate the rich farmer/rancher vs poor farmer/rancher debate. It is much more complicated than most are willing to talk about.
Thank you again for your thoughts.
Emily – totally agree! In ag there is so much money tied up in assets it is hard to measure wealth. And as we know, many things can change the assets we own (rules, regulations, weather, rain/drought, consumer demand, urban sprawl, etc.) that we are at the mercy of so many things. So with that we have to measure wealth in the things that really matter: life lessons, family, work ethic, and all of the other good stuff you get to learn growing up ag 🙂
As a small and literally growing operation, I *have* openly discussed money questions. Some likely disagree with that, but others don’t and there’s little that can be more transparent when pointing out dollars and cents what it takes to run things, be it feed for rabbits, raised beds or for others the new cows or tractor or other equipment. People *don’t* realize and many have no concept the risk farmers carry, as Emily pointed to. Growing up I, too, didn’t think we were poor but not rich either. I spent weekends on the horse, we did occasional but treasured family vacations. Not every year, but as a teen my dad followed his dream to go to Alaska and took us – talk about building memories! But that didn’t happen every year….or other years! Most the summer we were home and ‘vacation’ was the fairs. That was normal so I never missed trips to Disneyland when we had Six Flags or other places to go. We had family and friends and monetary wealth wasn’t something I really thought about.
Jan you make excellent points. There is tremendous risk that folks in agriculture carry. I too treasured our occasional family vacations, and as a family we still talk and laugh about them. And yes, fairs were our vacations too! Nothing better than showing the animals you raised or the other projects you created, but you also got to see your friends from across the state, sleep in a hotel/motel, eat meals out, and get out of your hometown for a few days 🙂
Very good article. The only points I would like to add in is that although you as a farmer may not feel rich nor poor I think that all of the assests that do come with being a rancher/ farmer may be more than a lot of people actually do have. I understand the point of no fancy house or vacation s but the land, the farm equipment , the fishing holes, the 4-h animals , livestock, four wheelers and anything else not obtainable or useable, in a city or town may be where these people are thinking that you are rich. Of course the production of your product may be well known and how quickly you sell it and for what price may be taken into consideration by those thinking you are rich or poor. My point is people usually want what they don’t have or can’t have. Sometimes farms can be worth a lot more, (net worth)ffer a lot more, as far as fun and making memories with family and friends differently than in towns or cities can. The perception is in the eye of the beholder. sometimes people don’t have the same opportunities as a farmer/rancher would so I’m thinking that’s where that rich statement comes in. I also think that you need to take a look around and look the SES of the people who say you are rich and look at their lives and try and understand the things they have access to and I mean access as in what’s financially available for them as well as as much fun as you have on the farm/ranch do you think they can feel that same sense of happiness where they live from the same qualities.
Thanks for your comments. Yes, I agree growing up on a farm/ranch is much different than growing up without all of the things I eluded too. My husband was born and raised in a large city, we grew up very different and it is fun to compare and contrast our childhoods. Perception is key here, and you are right, people want what they don’t have. I think no matter where or how people were raised it is about making memories. Memories can be made by urban and rural folks, they may be different memories, but great ones nonetheless.