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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 PDT

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

LittleField Notes Fall 2011

LittleField Notes: Fall 2011

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There is a certain set of skills and knowledge that tend to fall through the cracks of your average farm how-to book. Books of a more specialized nature are also abundant but often seem to take a fairly simple subject and make it seem daunting in scope and detail. What follows are a few tidbits of knowledge that I have found useful over the years – the little things that will inevitably need to be learned at some point in the farmer education process.

Hand-Harvested Food Challenge

The Hand-Harvested Food Challenge

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In the winter of 2011, Daniel mentioned a fourteen-year-old student of his who had spent a whole month eating only foods gathered from the wild. “Could we go for two days on the hand-harvested food we have here?’ he asked. “Let’s give it a try!” I responded with my usual enthusiasm. We assembled the ingredients on the table. Everything on that table had passed through our hands. We knew all the costs and calories associated with it. No hidden injustice, no questionable pesticides. We felt joy at living in such an edible world.

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.

The Way To The Farm

Lise Hubbe stops mid-furrow at plowing demonstration for Evergreen State College students. She explains that the plow was going too deep…

Low Tillage Radish Onions

Low Tillage Radish Onions

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The radishes came up quick, filling the garden canopy completely that fall, and the following spring we found the plot was clean of weeds and rows of open holes were left where the radish roots had been growing. Well, we had a few extra onion plants that spring and decided to plant them in these holes, since we already had very clear lines laid out for us and a clean seedbed. What we got were the best looking onions that have ever come out of our gardens.

Horse Farming and Holistic Management

Horse Farming and Holistic Management

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Holistic Management was developed by Allan Savory who was a wildlife and ranch biologist in Africa who was concerned that the advice he could give farmers didn’t work in the real environment and even when the advice was good it wouldn’t get implemented. He developed a program which helps farms create a clear Holistic Goal and then use the farms resources to move toward the goal while being ecologically sustainable.

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.

Organic To Be or Not To Be

Organic: To Be or Not To Be

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How do our customers know that we’re accurately representing our products? That’s the key, the reason that a third party verification system was created, right? I think this is the beauty of a smaller-scale, community-based direct market food system. During parts of the year, my customers drive past my sheep on their way to the farmers’ market. At all times of the year, we welcome visitors to our farm. In other words, our production practices are entirely open for our customers to see.

LittleField Notes Farm Log

LittleField Notes: Farm Log

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My starting every column with a discussion of the weather set me to thinking about that old clichéd idea of talking about the weather; how it is all old men talk about downtown at the local coffee shop; how they sit for hours telling endless lies about how the snow was deeper, the nights colder and the hills steeper when they were young. However, clichés have basis in truth, and it is true that weather is a wonderful conversation opener.

Cane Grinding

Cane Grinding: An Age-Old Georgia Tradition

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Most sugar cane is processed in refineries to give us molasses, brown sugar, and various kinds of white sugar. However, some South Georgia farms that raise sugar cane still process it the old way to produce the special tasting sweetener for their own food. One such farm is the Rocking R Ranch in Kibbee, Georgia. It is owned by Charles and Patricia Roberts and their sons. The process they use has not changed in the past 100 years. This is how it is done.

Starting Your Farm

Starting Your Farm: Chapter 2

How do you learn the true status of that farm with the “for sale” sign? Here are some important pieces of information for you to learn about a given selling farm. The answers will most probably tell you how serious the seller is.

Biodynamic Meeting at Ruby and Amber’s Organic Farm

Biodynamic Meeting at Ruby and Amber’s Organic Farm

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One weekend I attended a Biodynamic meeting at Ruby and Amber’s Organic Farm in Dorena, Oregon, in the Row River Valley, just east of Cottage Grove. I always enjoy seeing other food growing operations, as this is such an infinitely broad subject, there is always much to learn from others’ experiences. At this farm, draft horses are used for much of the work.

Personal Food Production

Personal Food Production

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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.

Fjordworks: A History of Wrecks Part 1

Fjordworks: A History of Wrecks Part 1

I am certainly not the most able of dairymen, nor the most skilled among vegetable growers, and by no means am I to be counted amongst the ranks of the master teamsters of draft horses. If there is anything remarkable about my story it is that someone could know so little about farming as I did when I started out and still manage to make a good life of it.

Cultivating Questions Winterkilled Cover Crops for a Mild Climate Part 2

Cultivating Questions: Winterkilled Cover Crops For A Mild Climate Part 2

Finding just the right cover crop-tillage combination for crops planted the last half of June has always been a real challenge in our location. While surface-tilling mature rye and vetch in May works well for fall crops established in July and August, this cover crop-tillage combo does not allow enough time for decomposition and moisture accumulation for end-of-June plantings.

The First Year

The First Year

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Prior to last year, I had felt I knew the nuances of the land quite well and fancied myself as knowledgeable about the course of the natural world. Outdoors was where I felt the most comfortable. The fresh air and endless views of fields, hills and valleys renewed my spirit and refreshed my mind. I didn’t think there was much that could fluster me when it came to the land. Until I became an organic farmer.

LittleField Notes Prodigal Sun & Food Ethics

LittleField Notes: Prodigal Sun & Food Ethics

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To my great delight a sizable portion of the general eating public has over the past few years decided to begin to care a great deal about where their food comes from. This is good for small farmers. It bodes well for the future of the planet and leaves me hopeful. People seem to be taking Wendell Berry’s words to heart that “eating is an agricultural act;” that with every forkful we are participating in the act of farming.

Cultivating Questions Cultivator Setups and Deer Fencing

Cultivating Questions: Cultivator Set-ups and Deer Fencing

We know all too well the frustration of putting your heart and soul into a crop only to have the wildlife consume it before you can get it harvested let alone to market. Our farm sits next to several thousand acres of state game lands and is the only produce operation in the area. As you can imagine, deer pressure can be intense. Neighbors have counted herds of 20 or more in our pastures.

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