With a zest for life, and most expressive eyes, a heart of gold and a laugh that comes from deep within. She is my legacy. She is my hope for the future of Agriculture.

She loves this life. At the tender age of 7, not quite 8. She sees life for all that is good and pure and clean and innocent. Sure, she is starting to gain awareness that the ranching life is not easy. It’s exhausting and smelly and loud and obnoxious at times. But, she sees the big picture. She understands that farming and ranching means less invitations to birthday parties and play dates. She knows that many of her peers “don’t get it.” She expresses her own self confidence when passed over for invitations by little girls who get to spend all summer at the city pool and playing ball together. She holds back the tears until she gets home, knowing it’s a safe place to cry into her mama’s neck or into the fur of her favorite barn cats. And after drying her tears, the smiles return as she finds her place on the prairie…where it’s safe, where she will always be accepted, where she can be “her,” where she is our future.

She dutifully dons her school clothes and tennis shoes for long days on the bus and at school in town. The minute she gets home, she shucks those things for jeans and her favorite boots. This time of year she races through her school work, so that she can ride along to do evening calving checks, or bucket feed the orphans, or play with her cats or ride her horse. It’s not easy to wear two hats, but somehow she manages to do it. Always with a bounce in her step, always with a smile as she exits the bus to return to her haven. The light that is in her, I wish I always had it. I wish all of us who stand to defend and preserve this way of life did.

She is our future. These little people we are raising are the future of Agriculture. At no other time have I felt the enormous weight of it. We are now an industry that is under a barrage of attacks and criticisms and scrutiny, how in the world can we talk these wee ones into choosing it as their future?

We must be honest with them. With all the wonder and wonderful of this life, what they must know to be true about their future of responsibility and courage and wisdom and work. That the work they choose isn’t glamorous or easy. That they may not be recognized for their efforts to feed and care for the world, that in the end…the satisfaction will only come from within.

Try as I might, I am not sure how to go about raising her up in a way that allows her to choose her own future, while secretly hoping she will fly away but then return to her nest here in God’s country of Nebraska. The only thing I know to do is plow headlong into it, as we have done since April 2008. In living it out daily, with the sights, sounds, and experiences that will “stick.”

Sure, I will be okay if a young man steals her heart that takes her to another home, but I hope she will always know where she is rooted, that she will always cheer for Agriculture, and that somehow and some way she will always be connected to the land. Her love for the Lord, and her efforts to live for His Glory are ultimately what matter but I sure hope they include seed and soil, cattle and horses.

Happy 8th birthday to our Maggie Bell. The love we have for you lives in how we raise you, what we teach you, and this life we give you under the wide open sky. I pray you can offer the same love to your children one day.

Photo compliments of my talented sister (and fellow rancher) Katrina Gotschall. Find her on Facebook at: KatrinaLeePhotography


Leah Peterson

Leah Peterson is a native Nebraskan, living on the ranch her ancestors homesteaded in 1878. She and her husband Matt, met at the University of Nebraska Lincoln, and returned to the ranch in 2012 after working and living in Central Nebraska the past 12 years. They are parents to two daughters, Maggie and Lucy. Leah has an undergrad degree from UNL in Communication Studies, and a MA in Leadership from Bellevue University. Aside from her work at the ranch and opportunity to be a stay at home mom, she enjoys writing, photography, community involvement, spending time with friends and family and trying new recipes in her kitchen. Leah published her first children's book in 2011 titled "An Apple for Dapple" and enjoys traveling throughout the state to share her book with children and raise awareness about the importance Agriculture in Nebraska.