It was a warm day when I interviewed Ryan Brady, but we sat outside to talk. Discussing farm life didn't seem right with walls between us and the land.
I don't think our location mattered, though. It takes more than walls to come between Brady and the fields of southwest Kansas.
That's not to say that nothing has. Brady has done a fair amount of traveling in his 40 years, including a two-year stint in Tanzania with the Peace Corps. But he always makes his way back to the place he grew up — a farm near Ingalls, Kan.
A typical farm kid, Brady remembers long days spent outside, playing and helping his dad work.
“This was what I did as a kid,” Brady said. “I don't recall going to the swimming pool or going into town playing T-ball or anything. I just, I loved growing up here with my siblings and I had a best friend that was just a couple miles down the road. The fields were my backyard.”
After high school, his parents encouraged him to go to college. They told him to travel and find a job he liked. So he went to Kansas State, earned a degree in elementary education and came back home to teach junior high math. He says he enjoyed teaching, but not all aspects of being a teacher. Going to Tanzania gave him some time to think, and when he returned, he was ready to go back to the farm. For the most part, he hasn't regretted it.
In a desk job, he says, he would spend his days dreaming about the weekend when he could go outside. Now, he gets to do it every day. Of course, farming isn't exactly a day at the beach. The birds start yapping at him before the sun rises. Farm equipment is expensive and crops can fail. But he says that for the high risk and hardship, there's high reward.
For Brady, that reward comes in the form of independence and satisfaction with what he does. He decides for himself what he wants to work on each day. When the crops grow, it's because he planted them. “The freedom that this lifestyle gives you” Brady said, “that freedom is hard to find anywhere else.”
After the interview, we stood in his yard for two solid, silent minutes as I recorded the sound of birds chirping. We were silent, the birds were singing up a storm. I commented on how loud they were. He smiled. At 5 a.m., he may curse them, but now they're the sound of home. And that, he says, even after his world travels, is still “the most beautiful place I've been.”
Harvest Public Media, based at KCUR, is a collaborative public media project that reports on important agriculture issues in the Midwest. Funded by a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Harvest Public Media has reporters at six NPR member stations in the region. To learn more, visit www.harvestpublicmedia.org, like Harvest Public Media on Facebook or follow @HarvestPM on Twitter.