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Harvesting Thankfulness

by Emily Sharkey |
Central Illinois Cornfield
Emily and Rob Sharkey harvesting a corn field together on their family farm
Emily and Rob Sharkey harvesting a corn field together on their family farm

When our kids were younger, every year about this time, we hung up a handmade tree trunk fashioned out of tissue paper on the wooden pocket doors in our dining room. We then scattered construction paper of every color on the table, collected every pair of scissors we could lay our hands on, and spent the next couple hours cutting out leaves and writing what we were thankful for on them.

Every day for the whole month of October, we added piles and piles of leaves to our tree. The leaves were adorned with the names of family members, answered prayers, friends, events, and even pets that made us feel blessed throughout the year. It was a tradition that we hoped would make our kids realize the magnitude of rich blessings in their lives. 

A couple weeks ago my husband Rob and I were sitting in the combine harvesting corn and eating a home-cooked meal my sister-in-law Marcia had so thoughtfully dropped off for us. We were having an in-depth conversation about how difficult it is to be truly thankful when you feel like life just “chewed you up and spit you out.” That’s an understatement, in our case, as we lost our 17-year-old son to a car accident a couple months ago. We cling to our faith and appreciate all the prayers but are in the midst of struggling with the relentless grief of it all. 

Eian Sharkey So many aspects of life and farming are out of our control. As much as we strive to grasp our own destiny, sometimes life takes an unexpected and painful turn that leaves you feeling wiped out. And yet life around us seems to keep going at its usual pace.

Back in late September, the night before we were to start harvest, a thunderstorm popped onto the radar out of nowhere. As we were hurrying to put equipment away and locking down the machine shed doors, the wind began to blow and severe weather alerts sent our cell phones into a frenzy, all simultaneously chiming out a warning to take cover in the basement and stay away from windows. 

A short 10 minutes later, the destructive storm had blown through and moved on to its next victim, but we knew it had just changed this year’s harvest for us, making it so much harder. The winds were clocked at 85 miles per hour and we knew without a doubt that when the sun rose in the morning, we would have hundreds of acres of corn down or damaged.

That is the tough thing about farming. We plant the seeds in the spring and spend the next six months pouring countless hours, money and prayers into having a profitable harvest, but it can all change in an instant when a weather event comes through, grain markets plummet, or someone threatens war. Farmers are never guaranteed profitable prices or large yields in any given year no matter how much we spend to put a crop in the ground. No amount of planning can keep a weather event from making harvest 10 times more difficult than it had to be. We had amazing yields in the field this year only to find ourselves struggling with the ability to even capture it all in the combine. 

So, in a month when we traditionally count our blessings and feel the joy that comes with hard work and our family cooperating together on the farm, in a year in which we have felt the struggle and loss more deeply than ever before, I decided to list the things I’m thankful for as a farmer, to make my own adult “Farmers Thankful Tree,” so to speak. It’s my attempt to work through a tough time.

So, I am: 

  • Thankful to live in a free country where I can safely harvest my crops.
  • Thankful for drivers that give me the space I need to move my equipment down the road and return safely home to my kids instead of passing me at dangerous speeds.
  • Thankful for consumers who ask me about how I farm and how I safely use herbicides and pesticides to raise my crop rather than believing the lies that farmers are destroying the environment.
  • Thankful for consumers who appreciate the safe, affordable food farmers grow that nourishes their families as well as our own.
  • Thankful for people who question farmers directly and voice their concerns rather than asking Google.
  • Thankful for the fact that I live close to the Illinois River that allows the transport of my corn, beans and wheat and creates new markets for my products to go all over the country and world.
  • Thankful for several ethanol plants that use the corn I raise to make safe, affordable fuel.

Sometimes we have to choose to be thankful during the hard times until our hearts truly feel it again.

Emily Sharkey

Emily Sharkey

Emily Sharkey is one half of the dynamic duo that make up “The Shark Farmer” broadcasting company. She and husband Rob Sharkey till the land at the family’s fifth-generation farm in the Bradford area. Their “A Shot of Ag” program appears regularly on WTVP PBS.
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