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The role of FOF in farming

Of all the people involved in farming — from the farmer to the equipment dealer to the feed mill and even the customer gnawing on our pork chops — one of the more valuable but often overlooked groups are those I call FOFs: Friends of Farming.

A FOF fixes a gate on one of our fields without being asked (or even telling us it was done for that matter), uptips a backstuck ewe, adds water to an empty bucket on a hot day, forgives us when a cow (true story) traverses their summer kitchen. A FOF might be a neighbour and they might even be a friend, but that is not the same as being a true friend of farming. The primary definition of a FOF is that they are supportive and understanding of the endeavour, with all its beauty and wonkiness, of farming. In a small way — think one strand in a larger rope — they help keep farms going.

Jo, no longer farming her fields, lets us use them. We tell her how many ewes and lambs are in a field, and she calls if the count drops, or she sees a troubling limp. When (ahem) someone greased a gate post with the baler, she sent her maintenance man, Wally, to deal with what was rightly our responsibility. Wally is a FOF too, topping up water and cutting back bush encroaching on the field.

Leo, whose family owns the barns where we keep our pigs, makes sure the heater in the water room is on when a cold front moves in. He cleans the pens with a skidsteer, for which we pay him, but he knows we don’t always have time to do the detail work with a pitchfork, so he does. The pigs are better off for his efforts.

Leo is a FOF.

Not only does Doris let us use her pasture, but when she saw that the sheep didn’t have decent shelter from relentless November rains, she had one built. It is the best shelter on any of our fields, including those we actually own. At Doris’s, the sheep will never run out of water, nor will the guard donkey, Beverly, ever go a day without a carrot.

Doris is a FOF.

In haying season, Dan, the busy mechanic, drops whatever he is working on to deal with a broken shaft, or worn clutch. Sometimes I think he must hear us coming up his long driveway, because by the time we wheel into his yard, he has his goggles on and his torch alight. He’s at work on the offending implement before we are off the tractor. There’s no way we should be at the top of the heap when it comes to quick service, but Dan knows the window for haying is small.

Dan is a FOF.

There are others too. Peter, one of my partners in this magazine, hired an excavator to clear a hilltop of trees and brush and then he seeded it to pasture for our flock. He’ll never get his money back, but where there was scrub there is now a beautiful field. Brent, a retired firefighter, takes our hogs to market when I am overwhelmed with other work, and generously puts himself on-call during haying season, adeptly running equipment.

Peter and Brent are FOFs.

Too often we grouse about the endless work in farming. Maybe it is time to recognize that there are many hands helping us in small and often unseen ways.