A year-and-a-half ago my father died in a tractor accident on the Blake family farm in Mississippi. While his death was ruled an accident, my family will never know if he died from a tractor malfunction or from his anxiousness to get back to Christmas tree farming a year after open heart surgery.
Going home over the recent Christmas-New Year’s holidays brought back a flood of memories — many positive and some reality checks. Reluctantly, my family has exited its part-time “U-cut only” Christmas tree business.
The Blake farm was the oldest Christmas tree operation in Mississippi founded about 1966. Our claim to fame was growing 6-foot Christmas trees in three to five years; an undoable feat among the nation’s top Christmas-tree producing states. Today the Blake tree plots are overgrown with too-large-to-sell pines and cedars that are increasingly changing the landscape.
Trees courtesy of the Blake’s green thumbs annually graced the rotunda of the Mississippi State Capitol building, the governor’s mansion, and hundreds of homes.
I have struggled with the decision of going back home to farm again. Competiveness and artificial “trees” have displaced most small growers. I have decided to continue my agricultural journalism trek with Western Farm Press, an excellent company to work for. The employees are second to none and are like family. Dad would understand; himself a full-time ag journalist for 37 years. Like father like son.
Lingering drought, pests, and Dad’s wishes to operate a natural operation generated many far-from-perfect Christmas trees over the years that only Charlie Brown types could adore. As I look back, Dad was an organic tree grower who rarely applied more than what nature provided.
Grass control was achieved not by chemical means, but by the very tractor and bush hog linked to his death. Dad loved tractor time. In his later years Dad indicated a wish to die on the farm with his tractor. A wish fulfilled.
My older brother touts our father as “a man before his time.” Indeed Dad’s foresight in balanced tree farming is now labeled sustainability; efforts practiced since the first Christmas tree seedling met fresh dirt and a spade on a rainy, cold January day over 40 years ago.
Over eight decades Dad traveled the world; in part to dig up non-Christmas tree seedlings and gather seeds to plant and sow back home. Today the tree farm and arboretum has about 160 varieties of trees. Christmas tree sales helped pay for his incurable tree habit.
Stepping back to examine a person’s life and the myriad of achievements during their lifetime generates awe. It is more than the individual or the past; it’s their path and foundation, the groundwork laid for who we are today, and the course for our future.
Centuries ago farmers tilled the soil with an ox and a plow; thrilled to harvest five bushels of grain per acre. Farmers, agribusiness, and good old dirt-hand ingenuity have blown agriculture’s door off the hinges.
In the 30-plus years since I earned my journalism sheepskin at Moo U. (Mississippi State), agricultural yields have skyrocketed from each farmer feeding themselves and 28 others to feeding about 130 people today.
As we kick-start the New Year and journey into a new decade, let us never forget the farmers and agribusiness leaders (including our loved ones) who molded us into who we are. They unselfishly sacrificed for the future of their beloved families and industries, and blessed us with the most abundant opportunities ever for economic prosperity in agriculture.
Lest we never forget those who blazed agriculture’s trail.
I miss you, Dad!