Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Tough to find spouses on the farm

I admit it. I read the story about the farmer who has tried to find a spouse for several years, including posting a "girlfriend wanted" sign on the window of his pickup truck for the past seven years.

(Obviously, you would think any vehicle known as a "pickup" should help ... but I digress...)

Charlie Langdon, the grass seed farmer from Harrisburg, Ore., thinks perhaps it's partly because he's short (at 5-foot-1) that he hasn't had many dates in all this years.

As I read his story, I thought about probably the bigger problem: a shortage of women who want to marry farmers, especially in more isolated areas.

I only need to think about my youngest brother, near 40, who lives with my parents and works incredible hard with them to keep the family farm going after my older brother and I moved away. My older brother occasionally returns to help out; it is rare now that I can return to help with the busiest seasons.

Whenever I am home, a common theme emerges. My parents wish my brother would find someone to settle down with and help him with the chores of farming crops and cattle; and my brother explains that there are so few women even within a 40-mile range of where they live.

While there are parts of the world where urban sprawl is gobbling up farmland and rural areas continue to grow, there are other places — like where I grew up — where rural depopulation is happening. Schools have closed, grocery stores are gone, post offices no longer exist, and any businesses or services are many miles away. There are a lot less social events to meet new people.

Among those who are left in the community, especially anywhere near the age of my brother, there are also all too many cases of marriages that have fallen apart as urban women who marry into farm families have discovered the workload and isolation in rural communities to be too much. Often the men or women are also being forced to find off-the-farm employment, gone anywhere from hours to even days at a time because of shiftwork, and that adds extra strain on the marriage.

They drift apart from their husbands, they move away, and sometimes the farms fall apart as parcels of land are split up in messy divorce settlements.

So my younger brother remains dateless and works from sunrise until long past sundown, helping our family as well as neighbors. Last week, he helped several neighbors who rushed to still get in the last of their crops before November's rains and snow fall.

I sympathize with these guys like my brother and Charlie in Harrisburg. It isn't easy to find that special someone who understands the farm and rural lifestyle.

However, for those of us who grew up on or still live on farms, we cherish our ties to the land and that lifestyle of nurturing new life from the land or livestock each year. Having someone to share it with — the work, as well as the successful completion of the cycle of life each year — really helps to make it all worthwhile.

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