Harvest on the Front Lines

Pouring corn grain into tractor trailer after harvest at field
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There's really no better place to reflect on the year than driving a combine. That's because, as fun as it is, it leaves you plenty of time to look over a field and think.

Harvest is both busy and reflective. It can be rewarding or disappointing, depending on how well Mother Nature treated us this year and if we have had any major and expensive equipment breakdowns or other interferences in our ability to get the crops in. So far, with the exception of a second year of drought in our region –though less harsh than last year’s – this year harvest has gone reasonably well and crops are doing better than anticipated.

Allow me to share part of my story. I started life as a Registered Dietitian 20 years ago. I worked in both clinical long-term care, and public health arenas before “leaving” the profession to work full-time on our family farm. Frankly, I feel like I never left the profession because farming is the front-line of nutrition. I say I literally practice nutrition “in the field.”

Our family farm is a third-generation, 2,000-acre, highly diversified operation producing grain, hay, fruit and vegetables on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Harvest on our farm begins in May and continues through November, and sometimes into December. Because of the number of crops we grow and the seasonality of those crops, we keep busy harvesting something like seven months out of the year.

In May we begin harvesting hay which continues through September depending on the year’s rainfall, which dictates how many times we can harvest a hay field. In June and July, we harvest barley, then wheat. In August, it's cannery tomatoes and fresh market green beans. In September, wine grapes and corn. Then, in September through early December, we continue to harvest corn and soybeans, including tofu or food-grade soybeans that we grow for regional Asian food processors in the D.C., Baltimore and Philadelphia area.

The family farm keeps us busy but is extremely rewarding. I wouldn’t want to raise my kids anywhere else but on a family farm. They understand birth and death, the benefits of hard work, and the togetherness of family at work and play.

Harvest to me is the summation of all of my family’s blood, sweat, and tears encapsulated into a season. Harvest is our collected prayers for Mother Nature to cooperate and send us rain when we need it, make hurricanes stay out in the Atlantic, and give us sunny days to dry hay and ripen grapes. Harvest is walking through the fields to check the crops and evaluate which varieties did well, and which we shouldn’t grow in the future.

Harvest is the desire to keep everyone on the farm safe, and hope that we will actually be able to spend some quality time together during the “slow” months of winter. Harvest is watching the fruits of our labor grow and produce food for the many. Harvest is reflecting on our land and soil stewardship each and every year, wanting to be sustainable both environmentally and economically, and leaving the farm in better condition than we received it.

Harvest is family, working side by side every day and still loving each other. Harvest is the full circle of life, every year, every day, the fruits of our sowing and reaping.

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Jennie Schmidt
Jennie Schmidt, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian and farmer in Maryland's Eastern Shore. Read her blog, The Foodie Farmer. Follow her on Twitter.