Recently, I drove around Aneta, N.D. on a golf cart with my 91-year-old grandpa, Oscar during Aneta’s 56th annual turkey barbeque. I like to say Aneta is a town of 250 people, 50 of whom are in the nursing home, which is the town’s largest employer. The community comes together every year to slow roast turkeys over hot coals. This year, the turkeys totaled 312 and attendance topped 2,300 people. It’s an impressive feat; one that started with people such as my grandpa and continues today with a new wave of dedicated volunteers.Grandpa, my girls and I found a shaded spot to park the golf cart near the six lines of people filling their plates with turkey, potato salad, baked beans, potato chips and buns. My husband and cousin took a shift cutting turkeys for an hour. Then my uncle took his turn. As people stopped to grab a cup of coffee or lemonade before finding a seat, many familiar faces stopped by to visit with Grandpa. One local farmer looked at me and said, “You better write about this guy next week in your Pinke Post column. Or just write a book about him.”
Grandpa is part of “The Greatest Generation,” who sacrificed and worked to build a foundation in America for my parents’ generation of Baby Boomers, my generation, which I fall between Gen X and Millennial, and now my children.
My grandpa didn’t make headlines because of his sacrifices; however, looking around the Aneta turkey barbeque his impact is obvious in his small community and generations of family. Grandpa and his friends started the turkey barbeque on the third Saturday in June, and it was them who kept it thriving for the years that followed. As anyone knows community events are a lot of work—coordinating volunteers and numerous details that underpin the success of the occasion. With a lot of events these days, there seem to be too few people who are willing to jump into the trenches to get the gritty work done. But the few who do, create events unique to communities such as Aneta’s turkey barbeque.Grandpa looked around and said, “The guys taking those turkeys off sure are different now than they were when you were little, like in 1985.” He named off guys no longer with us, friends he misses. Then he said, “But look, Russell is always here and Russell’s daughters are here now. And your son, brother and cousins all come.” He didn’t say it, but seeing an important community event continue through generations makes him proud. Proud of his small town, the home his Norwegian ancestors chose to settle near. Proud of where he and my grandma, Nola, both were raised, where they chose to come back to after he served in World War II and they both earned their college degrees. Proud of where they’ve farmed and ranched together for nearly 65 years, raised kids and grandkids, attended church every week, grocery shopped, delivered grain to the elevator, volunteered as 4-H leaders and never missed an annual turkey barbeque event.Grandpa lives in the farmhouse his dad built in 1919 and where he was born in 1925. Ever since I was a teenager he’s told me, “I’m going to die here, barefoot in an alfalfa field.” Grandpa doesn’t leave the farmhouse to cut alfalfa anymore or really for any reason. Last summer, I took him out for a harvest drive where my brother Robbie stopped his grain cart to stand beside him in the barley field. This year, the trip to town for the Aneta turkey barbeque was “really fun” he said to me when I walked with him back into the house to meet my grandma at the stairs.
Humble, quiet farmers most often don’t want columns or books written about them. Those who work in production agriculture make up less than 2% of the American population, yet they grow a bounty of food choices for us. We rarely say thank you. Instead, as affluent first-world eaters we get tangled in arguing about food labels and sensationalized food headlines, often spurred by people far from farms or farmers.
But filling my plate at the Aneta turkey barbeque gave me enough time to think about the turkey, potatoes, pinto beans, wheat and more all raised by North Dakota, Minnesota or other Midwest farmers who sacrifice, grow and give for us. We take the bounty of food and food security for granted. I’ve even taken my grandpa and grandma being on the farm for granted. But I don’t think my grandpa and grandma take what they have for granted. They lived through the 1930s with little to nothing. They worked tirelessly to provide educational opportunities for all five of their kids, who all became college graduates. They miss those who have gone before them.But I hope they know their legacy and impact will live on for generations to come.
This was published this week as my weekly Agweek column. I haven’t posted my columns recently to my blog but plan to play catch up a bit. You can always find them on Agweek.com or if you subscribe, in your mailbox.