A Lesson from my Farming Father

A Lesson from my Farming Father

As retold to the author by Watens Maina

When life had offered him nothing, but days spent at the local shopping center, one day my farming father went to a public gathering where a lady was trying to raise 1,000/= shillings by selling off two skinny sheep. By all standards, the sheep were valueless, but his heart and mind convinced him to use part of the 1,500/= shillings I sent him every month to purchase them. Later that evening, he called me and there was some excitement in his voice about his new acquisition. Being the urbanite, I couldn’t understand what the elation was about. My non-appreciation of the two sheep lasted until I went to visit my parents over the festive holidays and we feasted on one of the most delectable roast mutton I’ve ever had.

Then he gave the story that brought me back to the city with more take home lessons than I would have learnt in a HR workshop.

  1. It’s a heart decision

We arrived at my father’s compound sometime around 8pm and as we settled in for the night, he prepared himself to tend to the sheep, dogs and chicken. I offered to help because I could see he was tired but he refused, saying he could do it and I let him. Shortly, I started hearing some tapping sounds as if someone was grating vegetables outside. Seeing the look of concern on our faces due to the time, my mother smiled. “It is still very early for us. He will cut the fodder, spread it on the troughs, mix the chicken mash and finally feed the dogs.” I couldn’t understand the situation, so I took a torch, wore a heavy jacket then walked out the door. We spent the next hour preparing animal food which provided a platform for us to. He told me how the two sheep that had been relegated to only being good for the village butcher, had by our visit, given birth to four lambs.

“Son. When I saw those two sheep, in my heart I knew I had to have those sheep. I was tired of staying idle and knowing that I was going to be a grandfather, it occurred to me that I did not have a blessing to leave my children’s children. I couldn’t even explain it to your mother coherently. All I remember telling her was that I knew it would work for us.”

As I retired to bed that night at around midnight, I wondered how many times I had got that tug and sense in my heart about some venture. Something that you can’t explain to anyone. It remains there and sometimes only when you are in your quiet space does it come ever so strongly asking, will you do anything about me?

  1. MMI disappear in oblivion
You define your own parameters of success but at the core of that definition is an absence of self. Click To Tweet

The next morning, we woke up to find the sheep enjoying the delicacy we had prepared a few hours before. Even though she couldn’t walk, my little princess was struggling to leave my arms to touch the sheep and my father proudly took her and led her to one of the small lambs. After breakfast I accompanied my dad to the nearby field to graze the sheep – an opportunity for another lesson!

“There was a young man who started building his wealth as an employee of his uncle. At the time, it was all about him. It’s not like he had a plan to have twelve sons. I know it got to a point in his life where he knew he could no longer raise his family in the same vicinity as his uncle’s. At some point, he sent his family to a different direction for a moment to evaluate his life. In that moment, he had a very deep struggle that resulted in his transformation. One that never left him the same.”

“Son, I have been young, and I had fun with a lot of friends travelling just like you to many countries, giving my children a flamboyant time, and am only realizing now at the age of 50 how vain all that was. It was all about Me. If it made me happy I pursued it. I never planned for the old age. Now I have two choices – sit and receive a monthly allowance from you or use my strength to do what I did not do when I was young.”

The questions were racing in my mind – Where does it stop just being about me? How do you know to cross the line of life’s mission? But the answer seemed come from someone who was listening to me. “You define your own parameters of success but at the core of that definition is an absence of self”

  1. The cash will come in the least of expected ways and won’t stop
Farming is not something you do with money in mind Click To Tweet

Later on in the evening while preparing animal feed as the previous night, I was prompted to ask my dad how he sustained the needs they had.

“Farming done right will always make sure that you never lack. Nothing goes to waste and rarely do I input foreign components. The sheep and goats give me wonderful manure, the vegetables give me food and I sometimes sell some of the mature goats, dogs, eggs and harvested crops. With the returns, we are able to eat well, buy extra inputs and have a reliable water supply. We are faithful to the grounds and the grounds make a great compensation to our lives.”

“But dad,” I asked somberly, “I am working in the city daily, I give it my best, I get my salary, but it never seems to be enough. How do I make sure that the cash comes and never stops?”

“Don’t be sad. You have never lacked for a day. It’s just that the money you are looking for is slippery. When I started, I wasn’t looking at making tons of money. All I wanted was to make sure that we would not go hungry and we didn’t burden you for our daily needs. Farming is not something you do with money in mind. The money yes will come, and it won’t go away; but it starts with commitment to the work, persistence and a passion for what you are doing. Shortly, the money component will slowly begin to come though.

  1. You can’t do it alone

As the sun rose the next morning, we woke up to a conversation between my dad and someone I later came to learn was a local veterinarian who had come to help with two sheep that were having some ailment. About an hour later the vet left just as another young man knocked on the gate. He was coming to help spray the kales. Because of the smell and after effects of the spray, we left for another session of tending sheep.

“Sometimes it’s easy to just default to calling these guys but we must learn to solve our own problems. No one knows my sheep like I do but because they were not getting better, I had to call the vet. And now am old. I can’t breathe the pesticides.” I perceived that my dad thought it a weakness to call for expertise and I offered a quick reassurance, “It is never wrong to ask for help. There are things you may not know and surely, you can’t do it all alone. It’s okay to ask for help.”

My dad went quiet for a moment nodded quietly. “You have learnt well. You must learn to do everything with your hands but leave the expertise to the experts. Allowing people to help you is not a sign of weakness. It allows you to avoid costly mistakes. If you ever need help, do not hesitate to ask. I may not have the kind of money that the city promises and never delivers but I have many years under my belt and a word of wisdom can take you further, and help you avoid much trouble.”

  1. The story cannot and should not end with you

As we ate dinner that night, which was our last, my father saw a perfect opportunity to talk to my wife and I. “My children. Both of you are my firstborns and I have a father’s responsibility to culture you into the greatness you have. All you do in someone else’s company as an employee ends the day you walk out. In business, it all ends if you do it just to feed your family. Think beyond yourself and your children. Think about others who can benefit from what you are doing. Don’t let your strength die in the city.” With that profound statement, the evening news began and it grabbed our attention.

It was with heavy thoughts that we took our 3 hours journey back to the city the following afternoon ready to make some impactful decisions on our lives, habits and plans for the future.

Farming done right will always make sure that you never lack. Click To Tweet

For more lessons from the farmer to live in the fast world of the city we recommend the book Raising Barns: How Dairy Farming Trained an Entrepreneur for a Career in the City” by Garry Krebs

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