Eliminate Trouble with Harvest-Time Shuffle

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November joanie stiers column

When the cell phone rings during fall harvest, we farm women exhale deeply. Largely, we prepare for a “pleasant-as-possible” response to the potential “please-drop-what-you’re-doing” request on the other end of the phone.

Forget the goal to always piggyback errands while in town for a more efficient one-hour roundtrip. For that moment, you have a single purpose and what you were doing just then ranks lower in priority, unless you’re waiting for the kids to get off the bus.

At fall harvest, the farm comes first and foremost above most anything else. And to keep the combine always in operation requires the selfless intervention among all members of the family. Just for kicks, I’ll name our on-call shuttle service to transport men and necessary machinery parts the “Harvest Shuffle.” We feel like we’re shuffling around. Besides, the term prompts fond childhood memories of the Chicago Bears.

The calls for help occur routinely throughout the course of a harvest-time week, but one particular moment arrived less than halfway into season. The timing followed a hectic day of farm office duties and fell at the prime time for preparation of a tedious, hearty supper in the field – enough homemade meatballs and mashed potatoes to serve about 10 on the go (a couple grandkids included). The cell phone rang in Mom’s pocket. She let it sound a couple times to gain a few more seconds to stir the stove-top pot. In that brief moment, our minds envisioned supper gone awry. Rather, she prioritized her thoughts, “It will be what it will be.”

And thankfully, “it be” my sister-in-law just checking in.

More specifically, it was not: One of the guys requesting a ride from the current field at harvest to the just-finished field to move a truck. A trip to the field to swap out a dead two-way radio that mistakenly didn’t make the charger last night. Nor was it the urgent need to fetch a replacement part for a broken-down harvest machine. That scenario clocks at a minimum 50-minute roundtrip in our depths of farm country. Add some time for finding the field, tack on minutes for additional field-side requests and you may return home in a couple hours.

On occasion, I equate farming to parenting, and harvest time represents a prime example. Mother’s know those interruptions. You stop folding laundry to “come see” that cardboard spaceship. You pause meal preparation to apply a Band-Aid, even if it soothes the spirit more than the minor skin blemish.
My mom earns the selfless honor far more than my generation. But my sister-in-law and I lend driving services, too, and fully anticipate it on occasion. Old linens cover my minivan seats for transport of men in greasy jeans.

The neighbor says she sees our minivans coming and going, bound for something farm-related, she assumes. Probably. Because, we came here to eliminate trouble; that’s our job in this harvest-time shuffle.

About the Author

Joanie Stiers writes from home, works in her family’s farm office and mothers two young kids in West-Central Illinois.

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