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Commentary: The Part of Farming Non-Farmers Will Never Understand

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A few years ago, Beck’s Hybrids produced a series of videos called “Why I Farm.” These farmer profiles were inspirational stories about their lives, families, and farming operations. I recently came across another inspirational farming story but in a rather unusual place, the sports page. A well-written piece, it touches on that indefinable something that all farmers have and that sets them apart from the rest of us. It’s that way of looking at life, the world, people, and farming that those who have never farm find hard to comprehend.

Fred Cox was a star in Bainbridge High School in the late 60s. At seven feet, he was the tallest player in the state as a senior at North Putnam High in 1970. He scored 27 points and grabbed 25 rebounds against Greencastle at sectional, then scored 33 points in his final high school game. He was recruited by college and professional teams nationwide. “My parents insisted I go to college,” he told Indianapolis Star sports writer Gregg Doyel, and Fred Cox signed with Ole Miss a few weeks before classes began in 1970. Yet even then, he just wanted to be a farmer and couldn’t wait to come home. And he didn’t –  he headed there within a day of his final college game, leaving behind any shot at professional basketball.

Doyel tells the story of how, when Cox was at college, he would spend his weekends on farms near the campus helping area farmers with field work.  While I am sure this was hard for his teammates to comprehend, most farmers reading this will immediately understand.  Cox has instilled his grandkids with the love of farming.  Zach Purdue is a 6-1, North Putnam freshman who told the big city reporter, “This is the only place I ever wanted to live,” referring to Cox’s farm where he spends most of his time.  This is how agriculture works, another aspect that most folks outside of agriculture don’t understand.

Harvest season is a time of year row crop farmers think a lot about why they farm. With mostly good yields this year, they are rather proud of their operations — even if they are not happy about the prices and the prospects for next year. Would they exchange it for a 9-5 desk job with regular hours and a 401K? Most would not. Mr. Doyel writes, “He is happiest here, home on this farm, surrounded by the only thing that grew taller than he did – those towering corn stalks.”

Thanks, Fred Cox for sharing your story and thanks to Gregg Doyel for writing about it with honesty, sensitivity, and skill — three things sadly lacking in journalism today.

By Gary Truitt