Lessons from the Ingalls

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

This year, timely rains and cool weather have blessed our area with colorful corn and soybean fields which point toward a plentiful harvest. In fact, the crops look as good as they have since 2004, when the area experienced record yields.

However, as promising as they look, it's much too soon to celebrate.

Long before I met a farmer, I learned that lesson through the "Little House on the Prairie" books written by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Those books and the stories from Laura's childhood still give us a glimpse of the trials, tribulations and joys of farming and rural life.

In the 1870s, soon after an Indian treaty forced the family to leave their "Little House on the Prairie," Ma, Pa, Mary, Laura and Carrie Ingalls landed in Minnesota, settling on the Banks of Plum Creek. With the optimism of a true farmer, Pa Ingalls believed he could carve out a good living raising wheat.

"This is great wheat country, Caroline! Rich, level land, with not a tree or a rock to contend with," he told his wife.

Pa traded his wagon and mustangs, Pet and Patty, for a small farm, which came complete with a dugout house featuring sod walls and a hay-lined ceiling. Understandably, the Ingalls' girls were less than impressed by their new home.

"It's only 'till I harvest the first wheat crop," said Pa. "Then you'll have a fine house and I'll have horses and maybe even a buggy."

As his first wheat crop grew taller, thicker and more promising every day, Pa made the decision to buy materials on credit and begin building their new home before his first harvest.

With real glass windows and mill-sawed wood, the beautiful home was finished just before harvest. However, before Pa can get the wheat out of the field, a plague of grasshoppers descended on the prairie wiping out the Ingalls' field along with anything else in their path. Needless to say, the Ingalls were left with a new house, but no income to pay for it.

Farmers really can't count their chickens before they hatch - not in the 1870s and not now.

But here is the rest of the story. The one not completely told in the "Little House" books, but in true biographies of the Ingalls family. No, Pa Ingalls didn't make it rich as a Minnesota wheat farmer. They didn't enjoy their beautiful home for long. He ended up working for the railroad before eventually homesteading a farm in South Dakota. When he died, Pa Ingalls was a store owner in De Smet, recognized and celebrated as being one of, if not the oldest, settler in the small town.

But Pa Ingalls did become rich in life. He raised four girls who adored him, enjoyed a long, happy marriage and lived a life full of love, laughter, adventure and music. Because of his author daughter, his spirit, his stories and his zest for living are still teaching lessons today.

Over many years, the Minnesota grasshopper plague, became not a defining moment for the Ingalls, but just another story brought to life for all of us to enjoy.

With that in mind, I've decided to look at another lesson from Pa Ingalls, maybe the most important of all: Life is a journey, lived a moment at a time. Each day is only a small page of the full story.

We could look at our current crops and worry about the problems that could arise before harvest. There are many -- bugs (yes, even grasshoppers), fungal diseases, high winds, hail, a hot, dry August and/or a wet and delayed harvest. Any of those could lower the yields significantly. Or I could worry about crop prices, which seem to plummet every day as experts predict record yields.

I'd like to go with my instinct and do a little retail therapy to lessen my stress level. But of course then I'm totally ignoring lesson number one. I'm also pretty sure a shopping spree wouldn't go over well with Hubby. (Note, plummeting prices.)

So I've decided to take another road.

I'm going to go outside and enjoy the weather, deeply breathe in the smells of freshly cut hay and enjoy the sights of healthy green crops, slightly swaying in the wind. I'm going to enjoy each day we are blessed with a potential bumper crop. In other words, I'm going to enjoy the destination.

Or I could go just go shopping ...

Quick facts:

2004 average corn yields (bushels per acre)
Pettis -- 152.8
Saline -- 179.1
Lafayette -- 183.1

2004 average soybean yields (bushels per acre)
Pettis -- 48.5
Saline -- 48.8
Lafayette -- 52.2

2013 average corn yields (bushels per acre)
Pettis -- 126
Saline -- 153.4
Lafayette -- 161.5

2013 average soybean yields (bushels per acre)
Pettis -- 35.4
Saline -- 41.8
Lafayette -- 48