The little boy was leaning nonchalantly against the door, with one hand on the door knob and when we jumped out of the van he said into the cold wind that whipped at our faces, sounding more like an adult than a child,“Welcome to our farm. Come on in.”
I smiled to myself at the sound of such serious, grown up words coming from someone so young and thanked him for the greeting. We stepped into a small, dark room filled almost completely by a large metal container, pipes running along the ceiling and walls, and a deep, metal sink at the back of the room. A small fluorescent light barely lit the room but a small window provided a little daylight.
I had started a personal photography project and series about small, family farms in Bradford County, Pa. and this was the first farm I had visited. The boy, wearing a winter coat and a knitted winter hat down over his ears, launched immediately into a tour of the barn, starting by showing my 11-year old son the nozzle where the milk truck driver would put the hose to siphon the farm’s milk collection from the refrigerated container into the milk truck. He motioned his hand up in the air along the path of the pipe system, showing us where the milk comes into the room and travels down into a clear sphere and then down another pipe and into the main collection vat.
Next he motioned us toward a door to our left and into the barn where he said his dad was feeding the cows. Cows were lined up in two rows, each in their own stall, ready to be fed and milked. They turned to watch us walk in and almost seemed to be listening to our young tour guide.
Before I could ask the boy his name or how old he was, he had a handful of the cow’s feed in his hand and began telling us it was made up of ground corn and hay and other nutrients. A man with salt and pepper hair and mustache, wearing a pair of faded blue overalls, pushed a wheelbarrow full of feed toward us and smiled at the boy and us. “He’s giving you the tour, huh?” He asked.
I said he was and doing a good job.
I finally was able to slip in between his explaining how the farm works to ask him how old he was and his name. His name was Parker, he said, and was six. When I asked how he knew all about the feed and the barn and the cows and milk, he said “I just do.”
Of course I know why he knows all he does. He is the son and grandson of farmers. Each day he watches the men who have shaped who he is and who he will become work hard for the life they want and they life they need. They work not only to survive, but to thrive.
His grandfather and dad milk the cows, care for the cows, feed the cows and they run the tractors, cut the hay, grind the corn and clean the barn. He is a boy being taught that to get what you want in life, whether that be a peaceful life on a small farm in rural Pennsylvania, or a life full of adventure and thrill, there must be some blood, sweat and tears shed. To reach a goal you work and you work hard.
It’s something his dad Mark knows a lot about. He thought he’d find his dream at college, but it was there he realized he had been living his dream all along on his family’s farm, right where he grew up. After he earned a degree he returned to the farm, the quiet, the tough life but the rewarding one that maybe he thought he never needed or wanted. Isn’t that how it is for a lot of us? We think we want something different from where we are and what we have when really, all we ever needed could be found right where we’d always been and among what we’d always had.
And sometimes we realize that what we want to do in life isn’t what will bring us monetary riches, but will bring us riches of the soul.
“Honestly, it is a labor of love,” Mark Bradley said. “I love working with the cows, and I love working the land. It is not a job. It’s a lifestyle. There are always bad days, but I can’t see myself doing anything else.”
It’s not a job.
It’s a lifestyle.
It’s a labor love.
So much of what we do that really matters is just that – a labor of love – work that might not light up our pocketbook but will light a spark in our spirit. And from that spark will come a fire that will burn through all the distractions of life and leave for us a clear picture of what is good and right and perfect about this thing we call living.