I made the first entry in this blog in September of 2007-- a solid 5 years ago. In that time I've been the observer of the recent changes to this place. Building by building. Farmstead by farmstead. Mostly there is a diminishment with each event. I've chronicled a few of the events as they happened- moving the Dry Wood Church away, the loss of historic buildings to fire and neglect.
But the last few weeks have just been "in your face" loss.
We are now down to one dairy farm in the county (from 400 in the 1960s). The historic Columbia hotel burnt down after being an anchor and landmark for 120 years on Main Street in Ortonville, MN. And another farmstead was razed and wiped off of the landscape this week.
I drive the same route when I head to the Cities. Last week I passed this familiar landmark farmstead on the corner the Chokio road and the Hancock road.
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This farmstead is gone as of this week.
A nice little farmstead- neat and tidy with a little house, a few solid outbuildings, and a grove of trees. From one week to the next- it was gone. All of it. Every last bit. The trees, the home, the farmstead. A few piles of dirt is all that is left to mark the transition from a peopled countryside to ag land. I'd say farmland, but that implies something more wholesome than I feel like attributing to this development. You know- like a farm instead of a global commodity business.
With each death of an old farmer, the humble homes are left to deteriorate. And with the price of land and value of cash rent, those homesteads are being burnt down/buried and plowed up. I've only been here for five years and I see it all around me.
I am bearing witness to the depopulation of the countryside.
I am bearing witness to what, for all practical purposes, appears to be the end of farming as we have known if for millennia. 100 years ago the farming practices used on this same land were recognizable with the farming described in the old and new testaments. Farming brought us the best of civilization and is woven into our culture and recognizable in many of the hymns we sing and the symbols in every stained glassed window in our church. The wheat- wine- grapes- lamb- green pastures. An inspiration.
Today farming has become the production system at the front end of a global supply chain. We aren't growing food out here for our families, our neighbors, or even for our country. The land and the people who 'work' it are part of a global industrial commodity markets.
We've so perversely incentivized industrial agriculture that there is virtually nothing like a family farm remaining. A diversified family farm is a thing of the past. It's time came and went. It was a good run- a 14,000 year run. And I for one believe we leave that form of farming at our peril. Not just for the production but for the civilization it inspires. The independence. The hard work. The good values of being raised close to the earth and to animals. I admire those farmers.
Oh sure- there are some nostalgic notions and even investments going on right here on this farm. Hell- we might even build a wooden barn. And to be sure I came here- to Big Stone County- for the romance of farming. I came here for all that is good and right about stewarding the land with which I am entrusted, to eat 'honest' food and meat that we grew and butchered ourselves. How romantic is that?
There's enough grief to go around tonight. But I am taking off my hat and bowing my head for the loss of yet one more farmstead. Time will tell, but today I cannot imagine that once those family farmsteads are erased that they will be rebuilt.