WHITE RIVER, S.D. — Michele Astleford's new home is a trailer set in a valley along a twisting gravel road. It's 75 miles to the nearest McDonald's. It takes three hours to reach the shopping mall. ``It was like nothing I'd ever imagined,'' she recalls of her first visit to the ranch of her parents-in-law. ``It was just wide open space. I had never seen, like, sky and horizon meet at the end and where you can see the road go on for miles. ... I thought Texas was big. It's not. Not like this. And I thought it was really beautiful. And I still do.''
The barren hills of western South Dakota are quite a change for a small-town girl from southern Ohio, who was working in Dallas and never dreamed of being a farm wife. ``Not in a million years did I think I'd be sitting here in a ranch house.'' She says, though, that she likes the solitude. There's a pet rabbit to keep her company and two hogs to feed every morning. In the afternoon, Mrs. Astleford takes courses at a community college so that she can be certified to teach elementary school, perhaps in White River.
``I hear that second grade has eight kids in it. First grade has, like, two in it. So it will be a lot different from what I'm used to,'' she says. ``I'd like to teach for three years until I can start the family. Then, after the kids get in school, I can go back and teach again.''
Increasingly, farm wives are working outside the farm to bring in more income. A recent North Dakota survey found that 61 percent of the spouses of new farmers worked an off-farm job, compared with 40.6 percent of the spouses of established farmers.
But that hasn't decreased the work expected of her on the farm, Astleford says. ``Scott has already told me this spring, when calving season starts, I'm going to be right out there with them pulling calves and everything else.'' So I'm not going to be in the house much next spring, I can tell.''