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Chicken Puberty and Crop Rotation: interview with a farmer’s wife (Rocky Mount, NC, photographer)

Something I’ve loved about having moved around the States is all the culture.  Driving around our area I see a lot of farm land and I know nothing about the life.  So I was intrigued when I found out my client Hope’s husband is a farmer.  She let me ask her a few questions about her life with Mike.

What do you guys farm and where does it “go,” exactly?

Farming goes back several generations on my husband’s father’s side.  We farm cotton, tobacco, corn, soy beans, wheat, and pumpkins.  We have contracts with cotton gins and mills and companies that use the raw materials. But, actually, our main source of income is chickens.  We have three chicken houses with about 50, 000 [!!!] chickens and we contract with Perdue.  The other crops are almost a hobby, because farming  is in his blood.  Mike is always going to farm something, whether it makes money or not.  The chickens provide a more stable income; our farm, on the other hand, is on a much smaller scale than most farms.

What kind of chickens?

They’re called pullets. Mike raises chickens from the time they hatch from the shell and he watches them grow up for 22 weeks until they mature to Chicken Puberty or whatever they call it in Chicken Land [enter me laughing out loud here]. Then our part of the process is done and Perdue comes and gets them.  From there they go to an egg house to lay eggs, and they stay there laying eggs for a year.

Mike has a long day, right?

In peak season, he gets up at 4 a.m. and comes home at about 8 pm.  “Peak” season for farming begins in about April or May, and levels off around November.

So what does he do in the winter?

He works on the farming equipment.  In fact he likes to buy broken down stuff just to see if he can fix it, which I don’t understand because I like to buy stuff that already works.  And he still works a 12-hour day.  It’s shorter than the rest of the year but it’s still a pretty long day.  Especially since he still has to tend to the chicken houses, which don’t have a season.  The chicken houses are a 365-day-a-year job.

What do you wish people knew about farmers/farm life?

There are a lot of misconceptions about farmers.  I think people see it as a sort of  “backwoods” job.  But it takes a lot of skill and intelligence to grow things.  If people could try to do what Mike does even for a day, they’d see it takes a special person.  Mike keeps a lot of information in his head and he just “knows” things.  Crop rotation, for instance.  He knows what was grown in what section of land and that XYZ crop can’t be grown there this year in order to properly plant a crop the following year or whatever.  Meanwhile, I can’t keep a house plant alive.

One other thing – some people get annoyed because they get behind a tractor that’s going slow, and some see that there’s so much land out there that can be used for housing and development.  Yes, the tractors are inconvenient and of course  we all need places to live, but at the same time – we’ve got to eat and have clothes to wear and farming is necessary for that.

What’s the hardest thing about farm life?

The amount of time he has to put into it, especially with having kids.  Mike comes in for at least an hour every day at lunch to be with us.  My kids don’t go to bed until 9 so that they can see their daddy.  He works all day on Saturday, even in “off” season, and a couple of hours on Sunday.

Isn’t that frustrating?

Yes, because there’s no such thing as a weekend.  [laughing] And I can’t tell you how many times we’ve been in a restaurant during a thunderstorm, and if the lights blink we have to go home right away to make sure the generators are working for the fans for the chickens (the houses are climate-controlled). But it’s a small price to pay to be home with my babies and get to watch them grow up.

So what’s been the biggest blessing?

Having a husband who does what he loves to do.  He told me a long time ago that, “If you can’t do what you love you’ll never be happy.”  This is his calling; he’s a happy man and a hard worker, and it’s a blessing to be able to instill that ethic in our boys.  Whatever they do they should do with all their heart; they get to witness that in their father, and farming has been a big part of that.  Plus, there’s just something sexy about a man on a tractor.

When I was at your house, something I noticed is that you’re IN a lot of your photos. I’m so proud of you for that.  A lot of moms won’t get in the picture either because they’re self-conscious or they’re behind the camera.  What advice do you have about that?

I feel blessed. Most people who know me would think of me as a happy, joyful person.  I want to look back at those photos and think, “Oh, that was such an awesome time!”  I want my boys to know that I was part of the moment – that I was part of the reason they were happy and they were the reason I was happy.  If you have a blessed life you need to record it somehow, whether it be in photos or journals, so that when times are tough you can look at them and say, “Okay, this isn’t going to last forever.  This too shall pass and I’ll be back to that happy place.”   You don’t take pictures in your darkest hours; you take pictures when you are on vacation or having a good time.  Having those images is uplifting and reminds you that there are better days ahead.

Thanks, Hope, for your candor and your perspective – and for letting me barge in on your busy day!

Hope - Thanks Crystal for capturing the heart of our family in photos and in words…you’re an amazing photographer and I’m so glad you’ve become a special friend too!