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Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PST

What We Really Lose

What We Really Lose

by Brandt Ainsworth of Franklinville, NY

My Old Man has done some living. He was born just in time to grow up in the Great Depression, at home, on the Cryder Creek in January of 1928. The exact day is confusing because his birth certificate has it wrong. It seems after the 12 pound baby was born, and his Ma kicked the Doctor to the ground in the process, his Dad didn’t make it to town for a few weeks. When he did make it to town to register the new baby; he forgot his birthday; thus the birth certificate is wrong, (that slip also set the lifelong tone for the relationship between my Father and Grandfather). Whatever day he was born, he went on to live life to the fullest, as he accumulated stories far and wide from his vast and unique experiences.

A few minutes with my Old Man will bring you stories Hollywood could never write. Stories of driving the canned milk to town at age 12 in the family pickup, not having a car to drive, driving new Cadillacs, eating home raised meals, eating at the Four Seasons as Presidents walked out while he was walking in, farming with only horses, then new tractors, then big tractors, then not farming, then doing it again with 50 year old tractors, then once more with no tractors. My own favorites are of him hitting home runs, scoring more individual points on the basketball court than most teams, dating his school teachers while in high school (he graduated valedictorian at 16), dating lingerie models, and stories of his hunting dogs and logging characters of the old days. The Old Man (as my brothers and I call him, and as he calls himself ) has been shot by a gun, shot at by other guns, twice stabbed with a knife, and twice (same day) struck by lightning. Let me say that again, so you don’t think I made an error; he was shot with a gun, stabbed with a knife, and struck by lightning. If that has happened to anyone else, raise your hand. If he was a hip hop artist he would carry tons of street cred.

However wild and exciting the stories are, there is one that I hold closest. This simple story says so much about people, our rural culture, farming, changed times, friends, family, and community. No guns, no runaway teams, no lingerie models; just a story of two farmers doing what they do.

What We Really Lose

Paul Day was an old fashioned farmer. The world was full of them in the late forties. He was as old in those days as my Old Man was young. Paul had a farm in West Union, NY until the house burned. After the fire, Paul moved to the Wellsville Gully just outside of Whitesville, NY (even today West Union and Whitesville are very rural and remote communities in Western New York on the Pennsylvania border). Paul kept about 50 acres in West Union after the house burned, and hauled what he raised to the Wellsville Gully farm nearly 5 miles up and down hill. Since everyone in those days but my Old Man thought early cut hay was a waste, Paul would haul loads of loose hay all of late July, and August in the hot sun.

About half of a mile from the hay field and up a steep hill was my Old Man’s farm. By the time the mismatched horses hauled the load of loose hay to this point, they were ready for another good rest. “Helloooo,” my Old Man would holler out, drawing out the “oo” on purpose to stop the weary horses. My preschool age older brothers thought this subtle joke was a riot as they played in the yard across from the big three hip barn. Paul would stand on top of the load of hay with the lines in one hand, while the team rested, and roll a cigarette with the other as he visited about what farmers visit about, the weather, the crops, the price of milk, who had the best horses, and so on. All the while my Old Man stood in the road and looked up at Paul on the load of hay. Paul looked out into the yard, by the garden, where my older brothers played near the quiet road. He would get a reflective and serious look on his face and say; “Earl, enjoy them boys and watch out for them.” He would finish his smoke and throw it to the side, as he continued; “I lost my Ma, I lost my Dad, I lost my wife a few years back, it all hurt, but by damn nothing hurts like losing a boy.” With that said, he got new footing on top the loose hay, tightened up the lines and headed the team up the long road toward home. Those words would ring in my Old Man’s head as he crossed the road and did his evening chores in the barn.

A simple story, yet it intrigues me for many reasons. The message of love for family; a man who experienced that much loss earned wisdom. The unhurried sense of time; farmers just don’t take the time, or have the time to visit and know each other. The farming practices; who could haul loads of loose hay nearly five miles to- day? The boys playing; boys fought — not watched TV. Boys listened to the adults talk and learned; they played by the road because back then that road didn’t get much traffic. My Old Man’s point of view; he was young and had yet to feel such deep losses as Paul spoke of — he also thought he would live his life on that farm before he lived on four other farms and had several other careers after dairy farming (laying hens, bean farming, equipment sales, real estate, sheep farming, horse train- ing, and logging). Of course, most intriguing is the depth of character. They weren’t just two farmers from different generations, they were two reflective thinking men.

As I write this, that story is more than sixty years old. Paul Day’s hay field is grown up. My Old Man’s beautiful three hip barn was torn down, and the once proud house is now a hunting camp for flatlanders. The Whitesville area is still picturesque, but the dozens of small mostly horse-powered farms are now just a few modern beasts of farms. Paul Day has long since passed, but his story is still poetic every time I have my Old Man retell it.

Character. That’s what we lose as we say goodbye to so many from the greatest generation. We remember the feats, the landmarks, the jokes, even the photos. But, only those who lived through those times can really give us a glimpse of the character of the people who comprised our rural culture and built the foundation for what we often take for granted today.

We live in an information age. We have more knowledge at our fingertips than any other time before us. One can learn farming, oxen, logging, rural life from book pages, or a computer screen, but as always our most valuable source is oral tradition. A well told story can make you feel the leather lines in your hand. It gets you personal with the old hired man who knew just enough (like Robert Frost’s Silas). The best storytellers put you there to smell the furrow turn, and hear the gravel scrape across the moldboard of the old Syracuse 1442. Some even go back far enough to put you, as a child, on the lap of a civil war veteran, playing with his long, white beard.

There’s fewer to tell us tales of how far they walked to school, or teams of horses walking up onto the steps of the store in town for a treat, hired men are forgotten, the timber that was felled with axes, and everyone’s contribution to win the Great War fades. I’ve always made a study of our elders and the stories they tell. Some entertain, some inform, some exaggerate, some are sad, some are funny, but the best are revealing. They reveal both how they lived and the character of the people.

I find the real stories to have more of an edge than Rockwell paintings, or even JC Allen photos would have us believe. We were always human. Thieves, not so friendly fights, infidelity, swindlers, crime, and laziness were about as prevalent as it all is today. It gets hidden below the surface. The kind of thing you don’t hear about until your three or four stories into a session. To me, the bad with the good only strengthens the characters.

The real point is for all of us to embrace the stories our elders share, before there are none left that remember canned milk instead of bulk tanks, loose hay instead of bales, and civil war veterans. Not everyone has been shot with a gun, stabbed with a knife and struck by lightning, but each and everyone of the best storytellers make up who we are, and how we got here.

Spotlight On: Farming Systems & Approaches

Swallow

Rotation As A Means Of Blight Control

Every farmer knows that when a crop is grown on the same field year after year, it becomes inferior in quality and the yield steadily diminishes.

Fjordworks A History of Wrecks Part 2

Fjordworks: A History of Wrecks Part 2

It is always fascinating and at times a little disconcerting to watch how seamlessly the macro-economics of trying to make a living as a farmer in such an out-of-balance society can morph us into shapes we never would have dreamed of when we were getting started. This year we will be putting in a refrigerated walk-in cooler which will allow us to put up more storage-share vegetables.

Food Energy The Fragile Link Between Resources and Population

Food-Energy: the Fragile Link Between Resources & Population

by:
from issue:

Now, after a one lifetime span of almost free energy and resultant copious food, the entire world faces the imminent decline (and eventual demise) of finite, fossil-fuel capital. Without fossil fuels, food can no longer be produced in one area and shipped thousands of miles to market. To suggest that the world will be able to feed the UN projected population of nine billion by 2050 is totally incomprehensible in the face of declining oil.

Starting Your Farm

Starting Your Farm: Chapter 3

What goes with the sale? What does not? Do not assume the irrigation pipe and portable hen houses are selling. Find out if they go with the deal, and in writing.

Sustainable

Sustainable

Sustainable is a documentary film that weaves together expert analysis of America’s food system with a powerful narrative of one extraordinary farmer who is determined to create a sustainable future for his community. In a region dominated by commodity crops, Marty Travis has managed to maintain a farming model that is both economically viable and environmentally safe.

Birth of a Farm

Birth of a Farm

by:
from issue:

“Isn’t it nice?” I offer to my supper companions, “to see our beautiful horses right while we’re eating? I feel like I’m on a Kentucky horse farm, with rolling bluegrass vistas.” I sweep my arm dramatically towards the view, the rigged up electric fence, the lawn straggling down to the pond, the three horses, one of whom is relieving herself at the moment. “Oh, huh,” he answers. “I was thinking it was more like a cheesy bed and breakfast.”

Chicken Guano: Top-Notch Fertilizer

Whoever thought I’d be singing the praises of chicken poop? I am, and I’m not the only one. Chickens are walking nitrogen-rich manure bins.

Farm Manure

Farm Manure

Naturally there is great variation in manure according to the animals it is made by, the feeding and bedding material, and the manner in which it is kept. Different analyses naturally shows different results and the tables here given serve only as a guide or index to the various kinds. The manure heap, by the way, is no place for old tin cans, bottles, glass, and other similar waste material.

An Introduction To Farm Woodlands

The farm woodland is that portion of the farm which either never was cleared for tillage or pasture, or was later given back to woods growth. Thus it occupies land that never was considered suitable, or later proved unsuitable, for farm enterprises.

Littlefield Notes Fall 2012

Littlefield Notes: Fall 2012

by:
from issue:

Why horses? We are knee deep in threshing oats and rye when I find after lunch that the tractor won’t start. Press the ignition switch — nothing; not even a click. I cancel the day’s threshing and drive thirty miles to the tractor store and pick up a genuine-after-market IH part. Come home, put in the new ignition switch and still nothing. When we need the horses they start right up, without complaint — every time.

Personal Food Production

Personal Food Production

by:
from issue:

We can argue about when, but someday within several decades, oil and the plentiful super-market food we take for granted will be in short supply and/or very expensive. We must all start immediately to grow as much of our own food as possible. This is the fun part and is the subject of a vast popular movement highlighted by innumerable books, magazines, and web sites. Square-foot gardening, raised beds, and permaculture are the new rage. We don’t need thirty-million acres of lawns. Flowers aren’t very filling either.

The Shallow Insistence

…a life of melody, poetry and farming?

Cultivating Questions Ridge-Till Revisited

Cultivating Questions: Ridge-Till Revisited

Delay ridge building until early fall so that the cover crop on the ridge does not grow more than 12” tall before winter. The residues from a short cover crop will be much less challenging to cultivate than a tall stand of oats, especially if tangly field peas are mixed in. Waiting for the winterkilled cover crop residues to breakdown as long as possible before ridge-tilling in the spring will also make cultivation much easier until you gain familiarity with the system.

Cuban Agriculture

Cuban Agriculture

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from issue:

In December of 1979, Mary Jo and I spent two weeks traveling in Cuba on a “Farmer’s Tour of Cuba”. The tour was a first of its kind. It was organized in the U.S. by farmers, was made up of U.S. farmers and agriculturally oriented folks, and was sponsored in Cuba by A.N.A.P., the National Association of Independent Farmers. As we learned about farming we also learned how the individuals, farms, and communities we visited fit into the greater social and economic structure of Cuba.

New York Organic Grazing Dairy

New York Organic Grazing Dairy

by:
from issue:

Our farm, here in the center of New York State, consists of 101 acres, about 90 in grass, the rest some woods and swamp. It is inhabited by forty-six jersey cows, twelve breeding ace heifers, one bull, and because it is calving season — an increasing number of calves. Also, four Belgian mares and a couple of buggy horses. Last, and possibly least — the farmer, farmer’s wife, and five grown children.

Raised Bed Gardening

Raised Bed Gardening

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Raised beds may not be right for everyone, and our way is not the only way. I have seen raised beds made from rows of 5’ diameter kiddy pools, and heard of a fellow who collected junk refrigerators from the dump and lined them up on their backs into a rainbow of colored enameled steel raised beds. Even rows of five-gallon pails filled with plants count as raised beds in my estimation. Do it any way you care to, but do it if it’s right for you.

LittleField Notes Seed Irony

LittleField Notes: Seed Irony

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They say to preserve them properly, seeds should be kept in a cool, dark place in a sealed, dry container. Yet the circumstances under which seeds in a natural environment store themselves (so to speak) seem so far from ideal, that it’s a wonder plants manage to reproduce at all. But any gardener knows that plants not only manage to reproduce, they excel at it. Who hasn’t thrown a giant squash into the compost heap in the fall only to see some mystery squash growing there the next summer?

Wheel Hoe

The Wheel Hoe: A Tool For Shallow Tillage

When we bought this little farm I soon realized I needed a wheel hoe. The size of the horse and tractor dictated space wasting wide rows in crop production and, to some degree, so does my two wheeled tractor.

Small Farmer's Journal

Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT