I sometimes fantasize about growing fields of golden wheat, tasseled corn, or russet milo. When I see newly turned earth, I want to run the soil through my fingers and nothing smells better than fresh rain on dry dirt or a field of newly mown alfalfa. Thinking about farming in this light makes me want to go deep into debt to fill a shed with huge implements.
While perks exist, farmers have one of the toughest jobs in existence. Watching crops dry before one’s eyes must be as bad as watching a loved one wither from an incurable disease. Though I dream about farming and I admire farmers and ranchers greatly, I don’t have the guts it takes to gamble a year of labor and money on a turn of the weather or the luck of the market.
Despite my lack of financial intestinal fortitude, I can imagine making a living from the land I love. From the looks of things this fall, I believe the crop to plant should have been the Russian thistle--yes, the Kansas tumble weed. The plant of Sons of the Pioneers’ song “Tumbling Tumbleweeds,” the plant tourists show friends, the plant that fills my tree row and fence line, the plant that Russian–Germans brought with them from the Steppes.
This year’s crop looks especially fine. Like good wine, tumbleweeds need to age, and those on our property are turning from green to gold. With time, they will fade to a sand color. At that point, wind gusting from any direction will tear them from their moorings, launching them on untold journeys.
I considered putting a radio collar on a tumbleweed to keep track of its travels. How far do they travel once they take off? Do they make it out of state? Do they fall apart before they make it out of their county?
I don’t know answers to these questions, and I cannot imagine our government funding a study on this subject. However, I have a friend who has capitalized on the wandering tumbleweed.
My friend and her sister created a web page for their imaginary Prairie Tumbleweed Farm accompanied by a fine story about farming tumbleweeds and appropriate photos to support their tale. Amazingly, they found a market for their tumbleweeds.
Because they hadn’t expected a huge demand for tumble weeds, they found themselves and their children digging tumbleweeds out of snowdrifts and blow-drying them before shipping them to eager customers. To their surprise, a Hollywood director ordered some for a movie set.
I find a lesson in my friend’s unexpected success. Perhaps Kansans need to think outside the traditional crop and land uses to find ways to help not only to keep our land, but also to protect it.
I don’t agree with some that the only future for our Great Plains is use as a buffalo pasture. We can learn lessons the land teaches and from others’ mistakes. With ingenuity and effort, the possibilities are endless.
I may end up a farmer yet.