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I had never really given much thought to the guys who deliver hay as I mostly deal with their boss, the farmer. It’s up to him or her to hire and supervise his/her staff. One day, when my young barn helper, who was in her early twenties, and I were working together, I told her that we might be interrupted as my farmer was coming to fill the hayloft with second cutting hay. Her big blue eyes lit up as she inquired with high expectations: “Are they cute?” I must have looked surprised by the question as quality hay was the only thing on my mind, as she explained that hay guys are usually handsome, young, and fit and that she always enjoyed watching them work. Of course, they arrived minutes after this conversation, and we exchanged complicit glances as we held back our laughter. Since that day, even though she has gone off to California to work in a very impressive barn out there, I remember that day every time hay is delivered and I have to admit that it has added a spark to what had previously been quite routine. Memories have a way of sneaking into daily life at unexpected moments to bring back a moment, something someone said, or something that happened that we cannot forget. 

A recent visit reminded me of that exchange, and I found myself asking the questions: Who are they anyway? What kind of person is attracted to the opportunity to work for a hay farmer? So I asked a few people in the business, some I know well, others I don’t, and found a variety of responses. A lot of people told me that it was either the only, or the best, job that they could get as teenagers or young men trying to get through school or just wanting or needing extra income. Some said that as children, brothers, cousins, sisters of a farmer, they wanted to help a family member who needed their help. More people told me that they could never handle an office job and they loved being out on farms working with hay. Others were still seeking out their dreams and felt that hay jobs could be left on short notice for something else and provided more freedom that other jobs might not. One farmer told me that because he never did background checks and just asked for references, hard work, and loyal behavior, some people who had trouble getting other jobs were happy to sign on with him. 

On that day, I smiled as always, remembering my friend and thinking I might send her a text message later on, and realized that these hay guys were doing the job on the side after hours because they knew that their friend, the farmer, needed help and they wanted to spend time together to help him succeed. Of course, no one said this to me, but it was obvious that the group of men shared deep friendships, the kind that are proven by showing up to do a tough job, laughing at jokes and teasing one another, sharing their hopes, fears, and dreams, and simply reveling in the stamina and strength in those bodies my barn helper so enjoyed watching. 

It’s a hard job, often done in high temperatures, and on a tight schedule due to the weather, but worth the trouble to be able to get a job done, jump around on hay bales, and have some pure fun with a group of close friends who are kindred spirits. I smiled for different reasons than I had that day I remembered, perhaps for the most important of reasons: friendship and farm community.

Katharine MacCornack
Published on 2020-10-22