Spring’s warm breeze slowly pushes out the harshness of winter as Tom Harper walks the short distance from his home to his office. Tom’s office is special. There are no walls, no desks, and no stacks of paper. Instead, there are seeds, tractors, and irrigation systems. Tom Harper is a farmer.
Tom Harper’s farm, A.N. Harper and Son in Dorchester, Maryland, is a 4th generation farm. This means that Tom’s great-great-grandparents started the farm. “Farming has been in my blood ever since I was born,” Tom said. On his farm Tom gets to continue to work with this family and he thinks that is the best part about farming. His wife helps with a greenhouse business, and his son helps him in the fields.
I have been able to be with my father on the farm. He is 84 years old and still working on the farm every day. It is a great experience to be with your family all your life.
Tom also loves being able to plant a seed and watch it grow. “This is hard work sometimes, but it is very rewarding. You can watch something you plant grow from scratch and in a few weeks it will turn into something someone can eat.”
It’s early April and the last freeze of winter has come and gone. This means one thing. It’s time to plant peas. “First we till the ground and plant spring peas. Then they will grow for about 6 weeks. After we harvest the peas we will put in another vegetable or small grain. This allows us to have two crops in one growing season.”
Peas hold a special place in Tom’s heart. “Peas were the first crop we would plant. My grandmother would look forward to when the peas were ready because in the winter we ate canned peas. Fresh peas right out of the shell are really good, and she would look forward to enjoying them. We would all get together and shell fresh peas by hand. Then she would make the most delicious peas and dumplings! That was the highlight of the season - taking the very first vegetable of the year and being able to enjoy it with my family.”
While Tom does love being a farmer, it is hard work. Tom’s day starts at 7:00am and some days doesn’t end until 12:30am the next day. “Farming is not your typical 9-5 deal at all,” Tom says. Other challenges farmers face are government regulations and good old mother nature. “Crops need water, and if it doesn’t rain we still have to water them every few days,” Tom says.
Do you want to be a farmer? Tom thinks working hard in school is important. However, Tom’s grandfather always said, “Experience is the best teacher, but the tuition is high.” Tom means getting hands on experience, while hard work, is the best way to learn about farming. To learn more about farming, find someone who can teach you like his father taught him. You can try gardening to start! Tom says, “Any kid who plants their own garden, watches it grow and harvests it themselves will feel the real satisfaction of farming.”
Finally, Tom added his grandfather would always say: “A farmer is usually outstanding in his field, and if you look for him that is usually where he is.” That’s where Tom is, standing in his field working hard with his family to grow some of the vegetables we love to eat with our families.
Tom's story originally from the "First Peas to the Table" educator guide.
Want to learn more about Peas? Check out "First Peas to the Table"- a cute story that explores school gardens and Thomas Jefferson's first peas contest. Copies of the book available here!
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