July 23, 2013
In 1888, a man by the name of Joseph Hajny (pronounced hay-knee) arrived in Wessington Springs, S.D., from Bohemia by way of Chicago.
It was in Chicago where he met his wife Mary, and together they moved to Crow Lake, S.D., (later Wessington Springs). In Springs, the two homesteaded 160 acres of land and had nine children. Together, they worked off the land from sun up to sun down with makeshift tools, seed and their own two hands, fulfilling a lifelong dream.
But sadly, in 1904, tragedy stuck. Mary experienced a bout of mental illness. And while she tried to fight it, the pain was overwhelming. One day, she couldn’t take it any longer, doused herself with coal fuel and lit it on fire leaving her husband to tend the land and raise the children.
It’s no surprise Joseph lost his passion for farming soon after. He packed up his younger kids, leaving his fourth son, Adolph, to take over the land and work it the best way he knew how. Unfortunately, Adolph died very young, leaving my grandpa, Joe, in charge of it all. At the age of 19, with only an 8th grade education, my grandfather took over the land and built it into one of the area’s most successful and long-standing family farms.
This weekend, we’re headed back to South Dakota to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the family homestead, which my uncle Rog, 63, still runs. And believe me, that’s no small feat. Drought, flooding, insect infestation. He’s seen it all. With no roof or walls, farming is susceptible to so many elements. It’s no wonder so many people sold off their land, moved or got a job in town. But those who stuck it out have changed the face of farming, evolved how it’s done and are now reaping the benefits.
To say I’m proud to be a part of this great industry on which America was built is truly an understatement. Since my mom married my dad in 1985, getting our hands dirty and working the land has been a part of our lives. And while I don’t care for as much land as my uncle, my backyard garden has become a little homage to the farm life I came to know. My dad and I built it together — we talk about tending the plants and walk through our gardens when we visit one another, admiring each other’s work.
I’ve taken chances with crops, failed at some and had a bounty with others. And now I’m teaching my girls how good it feels to plant a seed and grow it to harvest. Who knows? Maybe they’ll take over the family farm one day. If nothing else, they will have appreciation for the people who put food on our tables.