Published on Friday, November 11, 2016
Raised on a family farm in Illinois, veteran Matt Swanson always knew he wanted to return someday, but wasn’t sure when it would happen. After being medically retired from the military in 2008, he’s thankful for the experiences that shaped his outlook as a farmer.
“I joined the Army when I was a senior in high school.” Matt recalls. “It gives you a lot of perspective on how easy we have it here. People think it’s so hard and everything is so terrible, but they have no concept of what it’s like in other places. What terrible really is. You see guys that are trying to make a living while there is essentially war going on around them. It helps you realize what’s good and what’s not so bad. Take right now, you’ve got a farm economy that’s not great. A lot of young guys are frustrated and unsure about what their future looks like if prices don’t change. The perspective my experience gives me is that I can look at it and say, if it works out, if it doesn’t work out, I’m still nowhere near what a lot of those people are dealing with. I don’t have to worry about my kids stepping on a bomb on the way to school, you know? That perspective I guess, is kind of a guiding feature of everything I do."
In addition to expanding his worldview, the military taught Matt to be very analytical. His desire to challenge the status quo has driven him to find innovative ways to achieve high yields. “You learn to stop and think and try to make a rational decision at times when you want to freak out. It encourages you to think outside the box. Farming in a lot of ways, is an old business. Guys have certain feelings about, ‘Well, that won’t work because it’s never worked.’ Let’s ask why that won’t work. If you can’t tell me why it won’t work, we’re going to figure out why because maybe it will.” Matt says with determination.
Many of the practices he’s implementing aren’t entirely new ideas. “In a lot of ways we’re returning to stuff that people like my grandfather or my great grandfather did when they were my age.” Matt explains. “It’s not really a new process. It’s just a different way of doing an old process. You talk to different people in the older generation, like my grandfather and you say, ‘I’m thinking about doing this.’ And he’ll say, 'oh we did that in the 1940s or the 50s. This is why we did it. This is why we quit doing it.' Is there something we can solve that was an obstacle for them that will help it work better for us?”
Matt appreciates the wisdom of the generations before him. “Take somebody like my grandfather who’s 80-something. When he was a kid, they’d harvest with livestock. Today, I’m doing a similar job with a 500-horsepower tractor that’s on tracks. It’s a different world. One of our landlords is 94. It’s interesting to just sit and talk with him. They bring a lot of perspective that is underappreciated at times, I think. I was flipping through some photo books the other day. When you see a picture of your grandfather when he’s 15 with his FFA jacket on, it’s just kind of a neat deal.”
A dream that began many generations before him inspires Matt to continue farming and look ahead. “You figure on any given day out here, you may see four generations of one family. It’s pretty cool.” Matt enjoys having his three young sons out in the field. Like many farming parents, he hopes one day they may have an interest in continuing the legacy. No matter what path they choose, Matt wants them to understand perspective. “I simply hope I’ve given them the tools to be analytical about everything they do, to always question the status quo, and to have a respect for the land and the people they’re involved with, wherever that is. And really just to appreciate the opportunities they have here, in this country, versus kids that aren’t so lucky. Even if all this disappears, if you’re that kind of person you’ll be successful no matter where you are.”
After all his experiences, Matt knows he was meant to farm.
“It’s hard to quantify. Every once in a while you have one of those moments like, ‘This is the coolest thing. I can’t believe I get paid to do this.’ It’s one of those things, if I could live somewhat comfortably and do this, I’d do it for free. I don’t think a lot of people understand that. You do it because your family has always done it. You do it because it’s a lifestyle that you had when you were a kid that’s continued from when you were seven or eight years old driving a tractor or truck. I mean, who gets to do that? I love the challenge. It’s something about being this caretaker, growing things and seeing it happen. It’s just a really powerful, spiritual experience.”
That’s why Matt Swanson farms.
Author: Natalina Sents
Categories: Why I Farm, Why I Farm Roadtrip
Tags: Why I Farm, corn, soybeans, Illinois farmer, cattle, Why I Farm Roadtrip, Matt Swanson, Veterans Day, Veteran, Farmer veterans
3/14/2017 2:08 AM
I would like to talk to matt. I love his competive spirit. That kind of runs in my family, Ohio State grad Logan Stieber is a cousin. He was one of only 4 wrestlers to be 4 time national champs. He also became a world champ this year. Could you see if he would give us a call or I could call him.