He was a hero farmer: Intuitive, analytical, almost preternatural in communicating with his 270 cows. He had names for all of them and knew their personalities. And they knew him too. One time one of the cows, One-Eye, strayed from the herd and came almost up to the front door of the house he shared with his wife (my daughter) and his son (my grandson).
“What are you doing here, old girl?” And he led her back to where she should be grazing with the others.
When he was a kid, his dad, a visionary farmer who changed the rules of family farms going back to the 19th century, utilizing the time-tested truths of sustainable farming, saw him playing near a pile of corn seed treated with poisonous pesticides. That was it. That singular event ushered in a whole new era for the Seeley farm, a fourth-generation business, in Troy, Pennsylvania. Shon and his brilliant dad took it even further, bypassing corporate distributors to bottle their own milk and get it out to local colleges and other customers.
When their onsite restaurant, The Milky Way, burned down last year, they rebuilt and celebrated its 50th anniversary with a bluegrass band, petting zoo, and free food. The whole town came out, over 600 people drinking the best chocolate milk in America.
Sure he went through his period of natural rebellion, but he left for college to study agriculture, after which he came back to work 16-hour days milking, mending, baling, fixing, mowing and growing, working the land to feed his family and his community organic style. He’d come home dead tired but still took baby Jack outside because there’s nothing Jack likes better than to sit on that tractor on daddy’s lap with his hands on that big wheel.
He’d call me while sitting there, two or three times a week, and we’d reminisce about the time at the karaoke bar where after singing Johnny Cash’s “I Walk The Line” (or maybe it was “Ring Of Fire”), he bought me a drink and asked me for my daughter’s hand in marriage. Do people still do that? “Oh dude,” I gushed. “You don’t have to ask me that.” And we hugged and hugged and then I sang “Sympathy For The Devil” by the Rolling Stones.
Soon the phone calls came more often and he’d go over each New York football Giant game and why he loved this team so much. His thought processes were so analytical and so astute, it was like he was right there in the huddle with Eli Manning as he threw another interception. It took him a long time to warm up to Eli but with the Super Bowl back with the Giants again, he had to admit the younger brother might be right up there with his superstar sibling, Peyton.
He loved telling me about the farm and how he’s really “farming energy.” I never quite understood it and questioned him about it time and time again and he never got tired of explaining. He loved explaining about the farm and I was all ears. As I grew to love him as a son, he felt close enough to confide to me his feelings of inadequacy and how he’s not the farmer he wished he was. He was so wrong about that. It’s going to take an army to replace him.
I was interviewing Graham Nash at Le Parker Meridian on 56th Street in New York City on Monday, July 23, when he called to tell me that Jack had a sister, Audra Rebecca Seeley, named after my mother. He stayed up all night at the hospital that night, drove back to the farm in the morning, and proceeded to work a very hard day with all kinds of equipment problems in a brutal heat. By sundown, he was finished, but you couldn’t talk Shon into getting some sleep, so he drove right back to the hospital to see his newborn daughter when he must have fell asleep at the wheel and crashed into a tree.
If one more person tells me about God’s plan, I may hit them right in the face. There is no plan for something like this. It wasn’t supposed to happen. It just did. So who’s to bless and who’s to blame? He’s at peace now but those of us who loved him cannot be. The final chapter of my life now begins and it’s devoted forevermore, with the help of my wife, to my daughter, son and grandchildren. That’s all that matters now. I think back to how carefree I once was. Those days are gone forever. Although surely there will be more good times ahead, they will always be tempered by what was and what will never be.
Rest in peace, darling Shon.
Those who want to know more about sustainable farming and the legacy of Shon Seeley can go to the website for the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture, an entity that promotes profitable farms that produce healthy food for all people while respecting the natural environment at pasafarming.org. Their loving memoriam for a farmer who accomplished more in his 29 years than most do in a lifetime can be seen at pasafarming.org/shonseeley.