Growing up as a farmer’s daughter is not something a lot of people can pride themselves on. I was raised in the small town of Hamilton, Virginia where my father farms over a thousand acres and raises cattle on our family’s farm. Not only was I raised with an agricultural background, but I also immersed myself into a world of agriculture and the Loudoun County 4-H program. This has made me appreciate having a fresh pork chop or juicy steak on my plate with an ear of sweet corn that I handpicked off the stalk in front of my house. Due to my past I have gained a whole new respect for agriculture and food from a personal perspective that not many have access to.
My father is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, farmers in Loudoun County. While most think that Loudoun County is a very urban area, anyone who lives there will tell you differently. This county is home to my family’s farm that is owned and operated by my father and grandfather. For a very long time they bred and raised hogs and cattle, but now they have downsized to only raising cattle and selling the meat as freezer beef to friends, family, and other locals in the area. Having fresh beef available at all times is something I took for granted for a long time, but now knowing where my meat comes from is a priority. Aside from selling meat, this dynamic duo grows soybeans, corn, and wheat. The biggest money makers are the straw and timothy hay my father grows with pride. Season after season, I witnessed seeds being planted, popping up from the soil, then crops being harvested. My father works sun up to sun down, no matter the weather, or time of year to provide food for not only his family but others as well.
For ten years, I dedicated my life to raising market lambs, goats, hogs, and steers. Year after year I would walk out of the county fair’s show ring with purple banners, but being in 4-H gave me so much more than that.
Raising my 4-H projects taught me responsibility, but it also taught me how to feed animals to achieve just the right amount of muscle and fat or how to look at several cuts of meat and tell you which one is the best to eat. As well as showing the animals I raised, I was also a member of our Livestock Judging team for numerous years. As a part of this team, I was trained to identify feeds and meat cuts, place animals, and give reasons for how I placed these animals.
This has made me appreciate having a fresh pork chop or juicy steak on my plate with an ear of sweet corn that I handpicked off the stalk in front of my house.
This is a skill set that many people lack, but I feel confident knowing what meat is the best when I walk into grocery stores. I have also had the pleasure and joy of butchering hogs with my own two hands. At the end of each county fair, it is time for my projects to be loaded onto the trailer and head off to the slaughterhouse. I usually grew attached to these animals, but I always knew the time would come to say goodbye. All my hard work and perseverance went into making these animals market ready to be auctioned off and sold for the sole purpose of being food on someone’s plate. Some say 4-Hers are desensitized to the idea of death and slaughter, but we are raised to know it is the circle of life and to instead be proud of all of our hard work. 4-H has truly made me who I am today and I’m proud of my successes and obstacles I faced while showing.
Being raised on a farm and then furthering that knowledge to my passion of showing cattle, sheep, goats, and hogs in 4-H taught me to appreciate agriculture and the food on my plate at each meal. Not only do I respect farmers and other agriculture related careers, I can understand and put myself in their shoes or should I say worn out, dirty boots. I had a very unique childhood and I believe that is why I have an admiration for the field of agriculture and growth of food.
Rebecca Payne is a junior at Christopher Newport University, earning a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology with minors in Psychology and Childhood Studies. After college, she plans to dedicate her life to bettering the lives of mentally and developmentally handicapped teenagers and adults.
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