August 2010 Archives
A few miles down the Clontarf road from our place is this farmstead. Imagine the heartache that comes from losing your way of life, your dreams, the calling to farm. Farming is a calling. I had a great conversation with a Dean of a College of Agriculture from a major Land-grant University. He said that he had visited every farm in the then ground breaking book "Sustainable Agriculture" (National Research Council, 1989). He said that the people who farmed 'alternatively' defied all conventional and modern practices, without any rationale explanations. But, he added, more power to them.
The 1980's were brutal on farms. We're still losing a lot of those 'farms in the middle' (few hundred acres). But farming is more than just another industrial cog in a global system-- it sustains our bodies and for some their souls.
In the words of Thomas Jefferson:
"Those who labour in the earth are the chosen people of God, if ever he had a chosen people, whose breasts he has made his peculiar deposit for substantial and genuine virtue. It is the focus in which he keeps alive that sacred fire, which otherwise might escape from the face of the earth." Thomas Jefferson, c. 1781
"I think our governments will remain virtuous for many centuries; as long as they are chiefly agricultural." (TJ to James Madison, B.1787)
I think Jefferson may be a bit over the top. But there is an independence of body and spirit that comes from tending the crops and animals that feed ourselves and our neighbors. There is also the humbleness that comes from being at the mercy of the nature and the elements- hail, drought, and locusts.
Then there is the indignity and anger that comes from being at the mercy of a society that said to farmers "get big or get out." What good has that done us? Not as an industry, but as a society.
Almost a Farm...
It hardly seems like summer has begun and now the crops are being harvested. The neighbors are bringing in the wheat and I stopped to watch and wave on the way home. The countryside is lovely green, with golden wheat, and blue skies.
When I got home the phone rang. "Hey neighbor- that was you pulled over- right? Well drop your buckets off and we'll get you that wheat you've been wanting. 15% protein this year. Almost as good a yield as last year. And last year was really good."
I said- "Excellent. Then I'll grind some flour and make you really fresh homemade bread.:
The gift of good family farmers and neighbors.
(Note to self: remember to bring buckets to Trevor).
Uncle Mick came for dinner over the weekend and the conversation turned to the birds that once were on this land and now are gone. Mick even knew which page to tell me to look at in the Birds of North America guide.
Here's what once was and now is no more on this prairie:
Once the ducks were so thick, that as a boy he fired one shot and bagged 10 ducks that were in a row. At times the skies had been black with ducks- thousands that would land in the field while they picked corn. Someone commented that the waterfowl flyway had shifted away from here. But the truth is they are diminished.
There is a new normal. My kids have never seen any of those birds in the landscape. Unless someone tells them, they will never know they are missing. I never really knew they were missing. I look at all the relative abundance of wildlife we have here and can't see what I didn't know was once here. Meadowlarks would be unusual- not a part of the ecosystem I've experienced. And Big Stone County is a birders paradise.
Soon after moving here Mike and I agreed on one goal for our farm -- to have some meadowlarks return.
I probably make life on the farm seem rather, well, pastoral. But it is a lot of hard work- mostly for Mike. He and Travis, a neighbor who just graduate from high school, took down our old crushed quonset in preparation for putting up a "new" one.
We really need a standing building to house our tractor, combine, and to have a workshop, potential grain storage and maybe even house some cattle if needed.
Through some of the hottest days of the year- with heat indexes over 100- these guys deconstructed an entire building- and left the ends standing. Now that is truly sweat equity.