There’s a story Max Armstrong loves to tell. He was sitting in a pickup in the parking lot at an antique tractor show with his friend, Darius Harms. A man came up to Max’s side of the truck, motioned for him to roll down the window and asked Darius, “Have you seen that Max Armstrong guy?”
He never looked at Max.
Seizing on the moment and ready to surprise, Max replied — in his best Max voice — “I saw him up at the lemonade stand!”
The man didn’t miss a beat.
“OK, I’ll go look for him there!” And he took off for the lemonade stand.
I’ve thought about this story over and over, because if ever there were a missed opportunity, it was this one, for that poor man. He never met the man he was looking for, even though that man was right in front of him.
And in this season, it makes me think of Master Farmers, because if ever there were someone who refused to miss an opportunity, it’s a Master Farmer. Every year, their stories do not disappoint: They raise families, they build schools, they lobby for causes, they grow crops, they build bins, they raise livestock, they show up.
They toss out nuggets of wisdom that I want to capture and hang on to — and not miss.
“You have to believe in your heart and soul what you’re doing.”
“Admit you don’t know it all.”
“I’m not going to change who I am. If I have to do that, then I have to do something else.”
“Keep your mouth shut.”
(Seriously, that last one. Words to live by.)
Friends like family
I noticed something else during my Master Farmer conversations this year: Their lives are a progression of relationships.
When Darell Sarff told of serving on the state Young Farmer committee with a group of guys, who later wound up serving on the Illinois Farm Bureau board, who later wound up nominating each other for a Master Farmer award, it all felt very familiar. They’re good friends who respect each other and whose families spend time together. Their kids know each other.
Those are friendships borne of time and years, and countless phone calls, late-night conversations and tractor-buying advice.
We’ve been fortunate to experience an early slice of that continuum through the friends we made when my husband served on the state Young Farmer committee. Back then, we were young and married and without kids. Then we all raised babies together and went on vacations together. Now we’re raising teenagers and showing cattle together.
Our kids look each other up at FFA conventions and state fairs. They fall back in together like they’ve never been apart, and it could not make us any happier. I’m 100% certain their college years will be a blast.
What it’s all about
The great part is, our friendships — while special — aren’t unique. Farmer after farmer tells me of the friendships he or she has made through Young Farmers or Jaycees, and how those relationships have continued throughout their entire lives.
That’s the stuff, isn’t it? Just as Darell says, “Buying this tractor or that tractor, or this farm or that farm — that’s not what it’s all about.”
So if you’re a young farmer, find your people. Build your friendships. Just like with these Master Farmers, those relationships will carry you through your entire life.
And like Max’s near-miss friend: Let us not miss the opportunities that are right in front of us.
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