The Harvest Crew
Every year my parents host a post-harvest celebration. They usually go out to a restaurant (that way mom gets to enjoy the time without worrying about cooking) and spend a couple of hours enjoying great company and great food.
The crew has changed over the years. It used to take many more people to get the job done, but with new technology it now takes one combine to do the work of two.
May I introduce you to the current Scheufler Farms harvest crew.
That would be my Dad. And the word boss should not connote any bad feelings (although sometimes he can be a little intense, which makes for some long days). Dad as a boss (please do take that with both of it's meanings: both awesome and manager) is well-organized, thoughtful, a great example, and someone who commands respect.
Dad runs the operation from the seat of his combine during harvest. Since the '70s - long before cell phones were in the picture - the crew has used business-band radios to communicate. The cab of each piece of equipment is equipped with one, as well as a radio at Base (that's my parent's house), where a tall tower allows the signal to reach as much as 30 miles.
Dad's efficiency during harvest is a force to be reckoned with. That combine is in the field at all possible times. As soon as the dew has lifted, he's in the field. Even if the crop is a little on the wet side, he's in the field (as long as there is room in the dryer to dry it). There must be a grain cart driver on his team, because even stopping to unload the combine at the truck would be too inefficient - so instead, he unloads his full combine on a grain cart as it drives beside him while he's harvesting, which then fills the semi-trucks.
Dad is a good boss. You would be lucky to work for him - as long as you're willing to work hard.
Meet Dan. He's been around forever - or at least since I was born. Which is practically forever, right? As long as I can remember, "Dad and Dan" has been a commonly uttered phrase.
Dan is Dad's right-hand man and is more than just "hired help;" the farm is as much his as my Dad's and they work in close partnership. Sometimes too close of partnership (we all know how that goes, right?), but that's rare. Dan is one of the best people I've ever met.
Where help is needed, that's where Dan is. During harvest time, he can often be found driving a semi-truck full of grain. If not there, he might be running the air-seeder to plant wheat, or even in the sprayer, applying fertilizer, herbicide, or pesticide to a field in need.
Dan's main passion has been figuring out the sprayer, with all of its bells and whistles. He's a technology guy and loves the challenge of learning new things. My dad will always gladly hand the reigns over to Dan if any spraying is needed in a field; Dan cares for the sprayer like it is his own kid.
Office Manager/Head Chef/Accountant/Etc.
Who else could this be, but my mom? Not only does she plan, grocery shop, prepare, and clean up at least two full meals every day, but she also manages all of the paperwork for the farm. She is in the background making sure that at the end of the day, all the pieces fall in the right place.
My parents not only farm their own land, but they also share-crop farm for other land owners - an arrangement in which the grain from the harvested crop is split between the farmer and the person who owns the land. Some of my parents' landlords are family members (myself included) and business associates that have become long-time friends (or now, their children or grandchildren).
Because of this financial relationship, it is imperative to keep close track of the amount of grain that comes in so that the grain and (some) expenses can correctly be divided between Scheufler Farms and the landlords. When several fields are harvested in the same day, with grain going into the same bin (or even multiple bins or multiple locations) for storage, you can see how important it is to keep track of this as the grain is stored.
Although the farm has been audited several times in its lifetime, Mom's meticulous record-keeping has always held up to scrutiny. If you happen to be one of the landlords, you've seen the detailed letters that she sends - including the yield of the field, the percent that goes to each owner, the percent that goes back to the farmer (payment for taking care of all this), the price at which the grain was sold, and the total dollar amount that will soon be en route to you.
Besides this, Mom manages the billing of fertilizer/chemicals/etc. to the landlords, ensures timely payment of all of their seed and chemical bills, manages the taxes for employees (withholding), pays the taxes for the farm (thank goodness they have a great accountant to work with who helps with this), and manages the payroll for the farm's employees.
Mom is quite multi-talented. Want to guess what her college degree is in? Yep, you're right: physical therapy (makes sense, right?).
The Seasonal Crew
My parents are getting to the age that many of their contemporaries are beginning to retire (what? how is that possible?). With this new-found free time, many of these peers have become regular seasonal help for my parents.
George, a friend from college, now comes out and spends a few days at a time at the farm, driving the grain cart or semi and doing all sorts of odds and ends. Vince, my mom's cousin, lives in his RV for a few weeks outside my parents house and picks up the opposite of whatever George is doing. If one or both of these guys isn't available (or if the yield is particularly good and it's an all-hands-on-deck sort of day) Howard sometimes joins the crew to pick up the slack.
Once in a while, Dad leaves an advertisement at the local community college to recruit a younger generation. Unfortunately there hasn't been a lot of response to this in the last few years, so lately they've been enjoying their baby-boomer seasonal help.
It's pretty great to have friends like these - trustworthy, honest, hard-working, and friendly - to lend a helping hand. Harvest is still a big job that requires long hours, patience, and dependability.
Who is Missing
It's been many years since Grandma and Grandpa Scheufler were active in helping with harvest, but their presence will always be missed.
Once Grandpa retired and my dad took over the farm, Grandpa would run the grain cart during harvest. My little brother, Ray, would spend hours with him in the cab of that tractor riding with him. Grandpa was so kind. Some people are nice, but my grandpa was kind. He made everybody feel welcomed and wanted and heard.
After Grandpa started to feel unsure about driving the tractor in his old age, he would drive his pick-up out to the farm and watch harvest from the road. Sometimes he would help deliver meals to the field or pick up a part for a broken piece of equipment from town and bring it out. He never missed one harvest.
Grandma Scheufler can be credited with the invention of the process of making lunches. There's enough about making lunches to warrant an entirely separate post, but let me just tell you - she took so much pride in making food to feed the guys.
The story is told almost every harvest of once when Grandma asked a young, college-aged kid who was helping that year how he liked his hot roast beef sandwich. "Well," the kid replied, "it was pretty good, but the sandwich was too hot."
Too hot??? My grandma almost jumped out of her high heels (which she always wore because of an injury when she was young). Grandma spent so much care ensuring that the sandwiches (not cold cuts, mind you, but rather salisbury steak or sloppy Joes) weren't cold - packaging them at the last moment, keeping them in a separate cooler. She couldn't believe this was his complaint.
Although the harvest crew is significantly smaller now than it was twenty years ago - bigger, faster equipment has made it possible to have fewer full-time employees - every bit as much care goes into this time of year. Everybody has a job to do and is counted on to do it well.
So there you are: the faces behind the magic of a Kansas harvest.
With love, from Peas and Hoppiness.