Thursday, August 27, 2009

40 Acres and No Mule

I have been reading an incredible book called 40 Acres and No Mule by Janice Holt Giles. It was written in the late 1950's by a city woman who married a country man and moved to the hills of Kentucky. She candidly tells the story of her first year on the ridge and thoroughly explains some old fashioned ways of living and working. She was not a farm girl, but was turned into one. And parts of her always longed for the comforts that she knew were part of city life. But most of her knew that she really belonged among the simple, quiet country folk of Appalachia. She reminds me of myself in a lot of ways, but yet we are quite different. She worked side by side her husband, since they had no children together and they had no mule. So she was the mule, she was his help. And she learned how to really work. I still don't feel like I know how to really work. I want to, but I work at home, and if I didn't do that work we'd all be in a sad state of affairs. One day I hope to learn to drive a tractor, and one day I hope that I will be freed up to do some manual labor along side the farmer. It just changes your perspective on life when you actually work for a living.

One of my favorite parts of the book so far is when she tells the story of working in tobacco with Henry, her husband. They had already picked the leaves and hung them to dry in the barn. They spent a few months drying, and then the two of them had to tear the leaves by hand and stack them for more drying and eventually sale. It was cold, she felt inadequate to do the job, and she was tired. She made a remark under her breath to Henry, "If people knew how much work goes into raising tobacco, they'd appreciate their cigarettes and pipes a lot more." ....."Would they?" he asked back. They had a pretty true-to-today conversation then about what people appreciate and understand about the working folk that make their life possible. She then writes an awesome explanation of it all:
"Nothing is for free! Wool, cotton, meat, vegetables, metals, lumber, cars, radios...The list is endless. Nothing is for free. Back of all of them is a great, toiling world. Toiling for necessities, for commodities, for luxuries. But toiling. I toiled in tobacco. Perhaps you toiled in cotton, or sheep, or cattle. But whatever comes to each of us in the way of material things has back of it the toil and the labor of hundreds of people. When you light a cigarette, think of me! And I'll try to think of you when I put on my wool shirt, or set my dinner table."

Oh, but if more Americans thought of the toil. The toil behind the necessities, commodities, and luxuries...

Jefferson Journal Article 8-28-09

This is a blog that I posted back in January...just slightly modified for print!

Have you ever read the children's book, City Mouse Country Mouse? Well, it is one of my favorite stories because it really emphasizes the fact that some mice, or people, fit in better in the country and some fit in better in the city. When I officially moved to the country almost 5 years ago, I started calling myself 'country mouse' and my sister, who has lived in Miami for 16 years and loves it (!), 'city mouse'. And just like the story, the two of us visit each other in our respected living quarters, look around and take it all in, and say, "This is nice.... for you! But I'm happiest at home in the city/country"
So back in the winter time, the city mice decided to venture up the state to visit the country mice. Let me paint the picture for you: The city mice arrive in a sleek German-made wagon. It did get a little dirt on the tires when they drove up my driveway. The mice were all wearing very stylish clothes and were armed with the latest technological devices for travel and entertainment. They brought along with them the choicest foods only to be found in the city. They brought various other comfort items that the country mice had heard tale of, but had yet to behold with their own eyes. Everyone settled in, warming in front of the fire as it is quite cold in the countryside that time of year. As our weekend progressed, the city nephew spent most of his time outside- roaming the land, hunting and skeet shooting with farmer uncle, feeding livestock, enjoying the fresh air during the day, and the beautiful stars at night. At one point he asked his mother if they could buy some land and build a house here! City niece also spent hours outside romping in the dirt and woods, and carefully attending the goings on in the pasture. City sister enjoyed relaxing by the fire, chatting with country sister, taking a leisurely ride into town (we took the American made oversized SUV this time), eating breads made from freshly milled flour, and the occasional brisk walk through the fields. The real excitement came when city nephew and country daughter were with farmer husband when he shot a deer! (This is the second time city nephew has been with farmer husband when a deer was shot-this is the highlight of both trips for him) City sister was a little bothered by the thought of the shooting.... but she was able to get through it. The last night of the visit, after all the many, many hours of outdoor adventures and a real taste of country living, the city mice were tired. City nephew and city sister said to country sister, "Can we please watch TV? We haven't watched TV in days! We are on a media withdrawl!" We all giggled a little and I said, "Sure. You are welcome to scroll through the channels, but remember we only have the major networks." City nephew said, "What is a network?" He looked very disappointed when I explained what it was and that there were only 4 of them. But we turned on the boob tube anyway and gave it a shot.
All in all, the city mice always enjoy their time here. Honestly, they handle farm life pretty well considering where they live and what they are used to. I am very proud of them and proud they were able to endure the country mice way of life. I also have a feeling they were glad to see the bright lights of Miami again...

Monday, August 24, 2009

Dirty Dozen?

You need to read this! Once again, the media puts information out to the masses that is not true and needs clarification. If you are still wondering if US conventionally grown fruits and vegetables are dangerous to your health, please read this:

Thanks again to Roland Yee, of Yee Farms,(oriental-vegetables) from south FL, for taking a stand.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Finding Purpose in the Process

published in the Jefferson Journal 8-21-09

I have always been fascinated with the old stories that are told first hand to me by people who have lived another life. They grew up in America, within the past 100 years, and yet it truly was another life. Not all the stories take place on a farm, but they all share common threads: getting by on very little, never having everything they wanted, working hard day in and day out, learning to live with disappointments and tragedy, overcoming the everyday obstacles of life, and always seeming to expect very little while hoping for the best.
When my grandmother tells me stories about her mother making all of their clothes by hand, and that a peanut butter and banana sandwich was a rare treat, I don’t really have a frame of reference for that. Nor do I quite understand the stories I hear when I am working at the nursing home. Stories from people who took a weekly bath in the Ochlocknee River, fed and watered livestock and milked the family cow before walking to school, and even a man who rolled logs down by hand through the mountains of North Carolina for his family to build their house from. To what can I compare this type of working lifestyle to… unloading the dishwasher? Putting a trashcan out by the road for the garbage men to pick up? Going through a drive-through to pick up dinner? Unfortunately, these things haven’t taught me much at all. But yet, it is the reality of my generation and it is almost impossible to pull out and away from it. Lately I feel that the prevalent obsession with a life of ease has caused an attitude of ambivalence to hard work.
I’m not a person who generally is opposed to store bought items, because I can appreciate convenience and I am a very practical person. But there are some things that I have realized are not that hard to do on your own and actually are worth the effort that you put into them. For example, I grind wheat berries to make my own flour. It isn’t hard! I don’t know that it is a cheaper alternative to store bought flour, but I believe it is a healthier option. And even more so than that, I enjoy the satisfaction of the work that I put into the process. There are so few things in life anymore that require a process, and I really think that the generations who grew up without having to appreciate the process are at a disadvantage. I got an email last week from a friend who was sending out a recipe for homemade laundry detergent. At first I thought this was absurd. Why make laundry detergent when there are shelves of the stuff at the stores? But the ingredients were cheap and easy enough to find and the process seemed like I could pull it off alone. (By this I mean nothing required farmer husband’s assistance. I have put enough drudgery on him with all my other little projects, such as the cow, that I have sort of worn out my welcome on that type of thing!) And I did. I made it and it is working beautifully. Let me tell you, bumpkins can really produce a lot of laundry. I do 10 loads a week sometimes! But when I mentioned to some friends that I had made laundry detergent, the response was shocking to me. They couldn’t believe I had all the extra time and energy to spend on something so pointless. Their argument was, why make something that you can buy? It was then I realized that the hard work involved in the process was more meaningful to me than they could understand.
We all enjoy the progress that our country has made and as a result, find ourselves in constant need of convenience. But I am trying very hard to not lose sight of the importance of learning the process of living. This may mean that I incorporate more things into my life that require some toil and sweat. Maybe this will also mean that my children won’t scoff at hard work…imagine that!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Keepin it real...

Thanks to Roland Yee for alerting me to this article. Since no one will hear about it elsewhere, I must get it out to the masses!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Thinking and Knowing

article published 8-14-09 Jefferson Journal

My daughter’s science lesson last week focused on magnets. One of the points of the lesson was that there is a difference between things that we “think” and things that we “know”. This was to help her learn observation techniques and to begin to learn the scientific method. Pretty deep for 1st grade, but it was amazing how well it worked. She was very surprised to find out the difference between things she “thought” about the magnets and things that she “knew” about them. That statement has stuck with me through this week, and I can’t help but apply it to the various aspects of agriculture that are part of my every day life.
For example, we have 4 chickens in our coup that survived the great fox massacre of 2009. One of those chickens looks like a rooster in many ways. The children are convinced he is a rooster. I actually think he is too. With everything he does, and every sound he makes, the kids and I are more and more sold on the thought that he is, indeed, a rooster. When we found our first egg in the coup, my 3 year old son said, “I think the rooster laid it.” We laughed. A few days later, we could have sworn we heard the beginnings of a “cock-a-doodle-doo” coming from the coup. Not the whole thing, just part of it. So my daughter and I said, “It IS a rooster!” Just last night, the “rooster” wouldn’t let my daughter get the egg out of the coup and was very protective of the other chickens, even pecked her on the leg before she could get out of there! Just one more verification to us that the chicken is a rooster. Farmer husband laughs at us, shakes his head and says, “It is not a rooster.” I guess this is a classic case of what we “think” and what we “know.” Either way, someone is wrong and deep down inside, I “think” it is the kids and me. So our observations continue.
A lot of people have been asking if our Jersey heifer is pregnant. To be honest, I’m afraid to even talk about it for fear of jinxing the whole thing. But, I know how much the inquiring minds want to know. I want to “know” too! But I don’t “know.” I only “think.” We think she is pregnant, but we haven’t done any confirmation tests to be sure. All the signs of non-pregnancy haven’t shown up since she returned from her vacation with the gentlemen callers. She is looking fat and seems more content with life than she ever has before. Even my kids will say, “I think she’s pregnant.” But I can’t help but think to myself that it really doesn’t matter what we “think” about this situation- We simply don’t know!
In the past few years farmer-husband and I have become very passionate about the safety, affordability, and the abundance of our American food and fiber supply. We, and all the other American farmers, experience first hand the effects of what people “think” about these things, and what they “know” about them. There are certain myths that the media and marketing groups circulate and perpetuate that have been devastating to dairy farmers, cattle ranchers, and fruit/vegetable producers. These myths mainly pertain to the safety of our American food supply. I would ask each one of you who reads this to think critically when it comes to your food choices. Do you buy or avoid certain foods because of what you think is true about them, or because you know what is true about them? If you don’t know for sure, go straight to the source instead of the media-ask a farmer! I always do.
I have the privilege of homeschooling my children, and have found that so much of what I am teaching them, I am re-learning myself. Why is it that what we learn as kids just doesn’t seem to sink in until we are grown? Through their experiences on the farm and in the country, they will have the opportunity to learn the difference between “thinking” and “knowing” and hopefully I will too.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Next Level

It has been made very clear to me that it is time the bumpkin made some changes. This bumpkin loves change, so I am excited about it. I have created a group on facebook, The Farmer Takes A Wife, so please join if you are on there. I am also going to be posting my weekly articles that I write for the Monticello News/Jefferson Journal, which are published every Friday. Farmer husband told me that I could probably have quite a Twitter following, but then he laughed, so I'm not sure if he was serious. I'll have to think about that one.

I am going to be adding pictures more frequently, and doing more updates. I am facing the fact- people love the bumpkin. They want more of her! And far be it from me to keep all my fans wanting more. For example, I was called this morning by a lady in our county and the conversation started out just like so many conversations that I am having lately..."Is this the Farmer's Wife? Well, you don't know me, but I LOVE your articles honey!" But then she went on to ask me if I would speak at her church for a senior luncheon in September! OMG! The bumpkin's first speaking gig! I said sure, and she said she really loved my most recent article and wanted me to expound on that. So, folks, I don't know what is next for me, but you better join my facebook group now so you can say that you knew me when!

Here is the latest article:
I did quite a bit of babysitting growing up and I always knew I wanted to have children. I didn’t see myself with an extremely large family, but a few kids and maybe even a family dog sounded fine to me. With our third child on the way, the “few kids” part is still within reason. The one family dog part is what has been the biggest surprise to me. We currently have 13 additional mouths to feed apart from the humans that sit at the dinner table. The last 2 were acquired this week from vacation Bible school…2 gold fish. Our 6 year old daughter was gazing into the fish tank that she keeps in her room and said sweetly, “I am so glad I got these fish…I’ve always wanted a pet.” I had to laugh… from her perspective, the cow, 3 goats, 4 chickens, 2 kittens, and 1 dog weren’t pets because they didn’t permanently reside in her bedroom.
This got me thinking about how we interpret our childhood once we are grown-up. It made me wonder, what will my children remember? What will be the highlights of their life on the farm? Evidently, it won’t be the abundance of animals they were able to take care of. My childhood memories revolve around living in a city neighborhood and so they are very different from my husband’s. He remembers things like spending time with the men-folk in his family, watching and learning farm skills and listening to conversations about farm decisions; all the trips to the tractor store and getting an orange soda in a bottle each time. He remembers the freedom of playing outdoors alone and learning to drive at an early age. But there were also the memories of his Dad working late and missing dinner during planting and harvest time and an argument he had with his grandfather about taking a lunch break when there was work to do. He watched the farm transform through the years as the beef cows and hogs would come and go and the crops would change with the economy. These are all the things that I found so intriguing about him when we met- he had lived a full life before he was even 21! He knew about history, science, politics, machinery, the outdoors, and of course agriculture. He learned it all right here on the farm in Jefferson County.
I didn’t have a whole lot of life experiences that could stand up to his. I had lived a great life in the city, in my neighborhood and with my family prior to living on the farm. But the more I got to know the farmer, the more I realized how much I had missed by my lack of experience with the “real world.” For me, that meant stepping off of the pavement into the dirt and clay rather than the other way around.
When you get down to the basics of life you realize that it is made up of ebbing and flowing, coming and going, good years and bad, joy and pain, giving and getting. These are the principals of life, and they are taught to me and my family every day in the country and on the farm. The depth of those lessons are hard to come by in the city when you have to fight traffic, fight growth, and fight your neighbor. I’m not saying life is a perfect utopia out here, but it is real and honest, and you don’t have to search long to find the meaning in it.
So what will my kids remember about their childhood? I hope they remember their “pets”, but I also hope they take with them the valuable lessons that can’t be bought with an education or trips around the globe. All they ever need to know can be taught to them right here in the woods, pastures, and dirt roads of the country.

Monday, August 3, 2009

First Day of Peanut Season

Here they are folks...the coveted goobers...freshly boiled green peanuts...and they are goooooooooooooooooood