The Family Farm

The family farm has a different look today. The changes are a mixed bag, some good, some not so good. Many farms were started by homesteaders, claiming a piece of ground to raise crops and critters to sell and for food on the farm. They cleared the land, they worked the soil and they built their homes and barns to create a way of life, a living for their families.

If all went well, they were able to pass their farms on to their offspring. With luck, the offspring improved the farm, planted better crops and raised their families on that farm, and again, with some luck, they passed the farm onto their offspring. Along the way, that tradition started to change.

Over the years, as parents passed, and children inherited the farms, many decided that they did not want the farm life and sold their farms for the cash they could get out of it. Maybe they had to, to survive the financial pressures that many felt. At any rate, the family farms started to disappear, corporate buyers started to buy up the family farms so that they could expand their operations and to increase their profit margins. Families moved off of the family farm and today, the family farm is becoming a memory, cherished by those who are now wishing they had held onto their farm.

Today, there are many more pressures on the family farm. Because of financial pressures of all kinds, there is much more corporate ownership, and even worse, foreign ownership is growing, something that I don’t even think should be allowed. It is the worst possible situation when foreigners control our food source and a huge chunk of our financial freedom.

Add to that pressure, the quest for green energy. Wind farms are popping up all over the country, each turbine taking out about one acre of farm production. The companies that want to build these farms pressure locals, dangling nice looking carrots in front of them to win their quest to build these wind farms, potentially ruining the farm ground forever. Again, this takes farm ground out of production, yes, it gives the land owner some cash, but more than likely, that farm ground will never be used to farm again. I know that we need to come up with alternative energy sources, but I think a short sided view and effort without studying the long term impact is not only short sided, it weakens the family farm concept and it forces us to start relying on foreign sources of food and income. Not good for our country and our way of life.

I realize that this post may be a little bit controversial, but I believe in what I have said here, and I am not afraid to voice that opinion. I have no problem with differing opinions, but if any comments become snarky and anything other than an opposing view, the comments will be deleted, and commenting will be turned off. It is not my intention to create another reason to hate.

The images below have been more heavily edited than what I normally do. They do not really reflect the comments that I have posted, but they do represent change, change that is outside of my normal. It also shows that change can be beautiful, and if carefully thought out, change can work.

Spring has Sprung, Maybe….

Had to be in the area of the farm today, so I took the opportunity to take the battery for the “Bad Boy”, and get it hooked up with the idea that I will go down sometime this weekend to change the oil and clean it up a little more before starting the mowing season, which by the looks of things, won’t be too long down the road. I am more than ready, I love spending a couple of hours riding around on that mower, getting some work done, but also soaking in the fresh country breeze, enjoying the sights around the farm, and just relaxing.

While they may be small and hard to spot, there are definite signs of spring all around the farm. The trees in the front yard are budding out really nice, if the warm temps hold on, it won’t be long till we see the green of small, new leaves. Next thing you know, there will be the sound of the birds singing and flittering about, making nests and getting ready to raise the seasons new “crop”.

I also saw some workers prepping for some tile placement just south and east of Mom’s place, another sign that spring is just around the corner, getting the last of the winter projects cared for just in time for planting. I also saw a couple of guys getting their planters tuned up, can’t wait to see them in the field. The smell of freshly turned soil, is a joy that I think that most would not understand, but it is perfume of the highest quality, I wish somebody would bottle it.

As I was leaving, the sun was still kinda high in the sky, but the clouds coming in helped to turn it into a beautiful sunset image, another view that is always different on the farm, but always beautiful.

Going to Town

If we stayed on the farm with Aunt Millie and Uncle Jim for more than a day or 2, there was a good chance that one day would be dedicated to going to town, to the market. Time to take the eggs to the market and do a little shopping.

It was an adventure to say the least. Uncle Jim made the ride in exciting, can’t say he was the best driver in the world, but hey, we got there, and we got back, and that is what counts.

While in town, Uncle Jim would find the bench on the town square and sit down for a nice relaxing smoke on his old corn cob pipe. Millie and I would go to the store to sell the eggs, and to pick up essentials before heading back to the farm.

It was interesting to see how the eggs were handled. Until I got to go to the market with them, I had no idea that the eggs had to be checked, to make sure they were “good”, aka no embryo’s forming, and edible. Then they would settle up on a price, and Millie would walk away with the “egg money” tucked away in her purse, now it was time to shop. Can’t say I remember much of what she would have bought, they had almost everything they needed on the farm, but she picked up a few things, and then it was back to the farm. Back into our “work” clothes, and back into the garden, weeding and picking some good fresh veggies. Jim would take care of the animals, and then any other chore that needed to be done, then take his place on the well platform to have another smoke on the ole pipe.

Life back then, and in particular, on the farm, was a lot different than living in town. You had to plan your trips to town, take care of as much as you needed to so you didn’t have to make any unnecessary trips that would take you away from work needing to be done on the farm. A pretty nice lifestyle if you ask me….

While this is not the small town that Jim and Millie shopped and did business in, it is very typical of the small farming towns in the area.

\

Not on the Family Farm….this weekend, anyway

Not much happening at Mom’s farm this weekend. I am sure there is plenty of work being done in the background, all prep work for the upcoming planting season.

A disclaimer for this post, it is not about Mom’s farm, but about a road trip through the Spoon River Valley in West Central Illinois. My wife Susan and I, broke away from our “normal” lives and spent the weekend driving around such places as Canton, Bushnell, Cuba, London Mills, Havana, Lewiston, Bernedotte and Ellisville Illinois. The area is full of beautiful farms, rolling fields of corn and soybeans. You can feel the good old fashioned family values that make up farm country. It is a comfortable and beautiful place to visit.

Being able to experience a little bit of farm life, and to be able to visit area’s that are rich in farm history and culture, is one of life’s treasures that I wish everybody could experience and appreciate. Maybe the world would be a little better for it…… Just my opinion.

You can just see the barn peaking out above the roadway
somewhere on the Spoon River Drive in West Central Illinois

Waiting for Spring

Well, we are closing in on the middle of February. No real big snowfalls to get excited about, we have had some really cold weather, but today, it is about 50 degrees out, and the sun is shining bright. Sounds like a good day to drive down to the farm…

So, Susan and I jumped into the truck, and we drove to the farm. The air was cool but comfortable, and the farm is showing some very subtle signs of spring. You can’t see in the pictures, but there is green in the branches on the trees. New growth, I am assuming. The ground is still a little bit frozen, but the top layer is thawing out, starting to get a little mud on the surface.

We didn’t really stay long, not much to do today, won’t be long it will be time to get the mower set up for a summer of mowing. Oil change, and all that stuff. I can’t wait. Most hate to mow, it is a time to escape the city and it’s problems. It is a time to empty the brain of garbage that is not needed. Relaxation on a “Bad Boy” mower. Don’t worry, you will see me in action once we start up again.

The pictures in this post were taken with my phone, I had my camera with me, but I just didn’t feel like getting that involved in the photo process, plus I can do a few different things with my phone that I can’t with my camera.

This is the west side of the pasture, looking north from our little "house on the prairie"

Time Marches On

For as long as I can remember, this old tree stood guard over the driveway at the farm. As kids, we would have races from the house to the tree. It was our guidepost, when we saw that tree by the road, we knew we were almost there.

Time stands still for no one. This tree, for so long, was “the farm”. All of a sudden, we drive to the farm to see the tree laying down in the yard. A high wind came through and took advantage of the weekend, hollow trunk, forever changing the landscape. We now wait to see the buildings on the horizon. Not the same, but still a reassuring sign that a good day is about to happen…

SNOW, Yeah Right…….

I love the snow. I especially like to be at the farm after a good snow. We have been promised a couple of good snows recently, only to be left to slosh around in a very wet, sloppy mess. No accumulation to speak of. I am disappointed as I had planned on spending some time at the farm with the camera. So far, the year has been a bust. Still some time left, we will see what happens.

I often wonder what it was like back in the early days of this farm. How did Aunt Millie and Uncle Jim handle the cold and the snow? With livestock on the farm, they had no choice but to tend the animals, and I am sure the outhouse was a very long walk with a foot of snow on the ground. (I do know they used a chamber pot at night) but it still had to be emptied. Other than that, I think life was pretty much business as usual. Get up early, get the stove fired up, get the heat back up in the house. I wonder about the well, I know deep down, it wouldn’t freeze, but I am sure the pump would freeze up, so an additional chore there. Then walk a path out to the chicken coop, and to the barn to feed the livestock and milk the cows. Go back inside warm up to get ready for round 2. Doesn’t sound like a lot, but fighting the probably blowing snow, the chores became that much more difficult to perform. I can tell you one thing, they probably didn’t fuss about all the snow, they just did what they do, and they got their work done. We could learn something from them….

Not a lot of snow on this trip from a couple of years ago. Still, the roads were difficult, and those ditches are deep. Not much of a chance without 4 wheel drive
Looks kinda stark and desolate, yet beautiful
If memory serves me, it was very cold and windy (it is always windy at the farm) on this trip to the farm. It sure looks cold.

Sharing History with the Young Ones

A few years ago, I was mowing down at the farm when a truck rolled to a stop in front of the farm. A gentleman was in the truck, along with his grand or great grandson, I can’t remember for sure. He waved at me, so I stopped to see what he might be looking for. He introduced himself and his offspring, and asked me a few questions about the family aspect of the farm, as well as a little history on the place. He then turned to the child and said “son, this is what a family farm looks like. There aren’t many more left like this, and by the time you grow up, there will be even less of them.

He then introduced himself as somebody who lived across the road, and a little south of the place. He was taking the child around to show him where he grew up. As it turns out, he spent many a day, hanging out with Dad back in the day, as a child. His large family would visit Aunt Millie and Uncle Jim often, and the evening usually involved some pinochle for the adults. The kids played outside and enjoyed the fresh air. That is the way it was done back then.

The conversation turned to “What is your families plan for this place”? I told him that Mom now had the farm, and her goal was to keep the farm in the family, and to keep it as Dad would have. I also told him that as Mom and Dad’s kids, we all had the same mindset, keep the legacy alive, maintain it as close to what Dad would do if he were still here, and hopefully pass it on to future generations. He lit up when he heard that. He told the child in the truck, “This is what it is all about, this is what family farm is, and at least for the foreseeable future, this farm will still be a family farm. There is hope…….”

It is Cold and Rainy Outside…

Well, you might think from my previous posts, that the farm was always a sunny and warm place, good for growing crops, and for playing. Far from it. There were plenty of cool, rainy summer days when we visited. We still found ways to have fun. There were cards to play, Chinese checkers, checkers, and if we got tired of those games, there was always the Sunday funnies from the news paper. I don’t think we ever got bored on a farm visit. Plus, if we were stuck in the house, then the home baked cookies were always close at hand.

If it got too cool, Jim would fire up the stove, not too much, just enough to take the chill out of the air. A warm living room, warm, fresh bake cookies, a checker board and maybe something on the old radio or if the reception was good that day, we could watch Chet Huntley and David Brinkley do the news (back then we had REAL journalist).

Once Aunt Millie finished with her chores in the kitchen, she would often challenge us to a game of Chinese checkers or regular checkers. There were no holds barred when we played her, she played to win, and we often times did not walk away victors. (We were part of the “if you don’t win, you don’t get a trophy” generation. How DID we survive?

Uncle Jim would be sitting in his rocking chair, corn cob pipe ablaze, listening to the news, (tv or radio) enjoying the moment and talking with Mom and Dad, discussing the news coming over the talk boxes. We were all happy. Life was good, at the farm……

Trail Cam

When I was a kid, and we used to hunt on the farm, there was plenty of game on the farm. Rabbits, pheasant, quail, and squirrel. Over the years, farming practices, and the fact that many farmers removed any and all trees from their property to make more room for crops, the wildlife population has dwindled quite a bit. You will see a rabbit once and a while, and it is not out of the question to see or hear a quail or pheasant. It is a treat to hear or see a quail or pheasant in the area.

Today, wildlife has taken on a different look. Lately, there has been an uptick in rabbits, I think the fact that we let the pasture grow now has helped with that. Today though, it is more common to see deer, a lot of hawks, and an occasional heron in the area. Of course, there are plenty of raccoons, and with the increased deer population, there are plenty of coyote running around the place as well. I haven’t seen any, but there have been reports of bobcats in the area as well. What a treat that would be to see one trotting across the field.

A couple of years ago, I was walking the creek when I saw something really odd for the area. It was obvious that there was a beaver on the farm. Not once in my lifetime, had I ever heard of a beaver in the area. I was excited to say the least. I did some poking around, and I found the beaver den, and after more investigation, I found the dam “Bucky” was building. It was hiding, right in plain sight at the south edge of the whistle/bridge over the creek. Now my excitement is growing.

I started to read up on beavers and their impact on the environment. Most of their impact is actually quite good. The negative in farming area’s is the potential for flooded fields. More reading, and I discovered ways to help control that so it would not be a problem downstream. It was going to be my plan to put those measures into place in the creek, so that we could let the beaver maintain his home and hopefully we would get a little beaver pond along the creek bed. It was all very exciting for me and the rest of my family. I had all kind of plans on documenting the beaver and his work as he worked forward.

Part of my efforts to document Bucky would be to collect pictures via a trail cam mounted close to his den so that I could catch him coming and going. The camera would also catch activity along the creek bank to see what other wildlife was hanging around the farm.

It didn’t take long to see that one of a couple of things happened with Bucky. Either he was trapped in the area, or he decided there was too much human activity in the area so he moved on. Maybe a coytote got him. Who knows.

Never did get any pictures of Bucky. We did however, get some pics of some of the other critters wandering around by the creek. It looks like an otter or maybe mink, some raccoons and one of the most beautiful coyotes I have ever seen.

On a positive note, there is more wildlife in the area, and with any luck, we will do our part to see that population grow, at least on the farm…

Dad’s Tractor

Early on, Dad found an old International Model H tractor, much like one that Uncle Jim would have had back in the day. It ran, didn’t look fantastic, but not bad. He drove it all the way from home to the farm. Quite a ride, well over 25 miles. He stuck to the back roads to avoid as much traffic as he could, but most farmers will understand, not everybody in a vehicle was happy with him being on the road. It made for an interesting and nerve racking drive, but he got it done. That was Dad. If it needed to be done, he would do it, period.

The farmer that farmed the place at the time gave him an old sickle bar mower which he used as much as possible (the mower was old, and required a lot of additional attention, plus it tended to get plugged up quite a bit. Again, Dad would do what he had to do to keep mowing. He wanted to keep that farm looking sharp, and he accomplished that despite any roadblocks put up by machines. He had the farmer gene in him, when it breaks, don’t whine about it, fix it and move on. Not that he didn’t get a little bit “tee’d off” at times, but what else can you do, you drive down 25 miles one way to mow, the mower breaks, you fix it so you didn’t make the trip for nothing.

As time moved on, it became apparent that the old tractor and mower were more trouble than they were worth. He broke down and got a riding mower and continued to maintain the park like lawn in the front end. He still kept the tractor running, and he cleaned it up and painted it, not to show condition, but it still, to this day, looks pretty good, dusty maybe, but good.

The old tractor became the center of fun for Dad during family celebrations. All the young kids took their turn riding with grandpa and the look in Dad’s eye’s told a story of complete pride, contentment and happiness, a feeling that he had all the time, but it really showed at the farm.

Uncle Jim and his corn cob pipe

Our Uncle Jim lived life to the fullest. I am not sure that I ever saw him that he wasn’t laughing or had a big smile on his face. He also was very adventurous.

As it turns out, our love of balloons may have been inherited. Except that Jim used to jump out of them. Yep he would travel with a team, and parachute out of (may have been gas ) balloons. if memory serves me, he said they had a trap door in the floor of the basket, and once they got to altitude, he would open the door and make his descent back to terra firma. I loved to hear his stories.

Uncle Jim was also a painter. He worked for a local paint shop, and he painted gold leaf on the ceilings of several old churches in the Springfield area. He had a lot of stories to tell about that too. Again, he enjoyed life, and what ever it was that he had to do, including farming.

One of Jim’s other loves, was his pipe. It was rare to see him without it. Corn cob pipes to be precise. He would smoke them until he burned a hole in it, then go buy him another one. The new ones, he had to smoke them a lot to get them broke in. He didn’t care for the taste of a new pipe. Kentucky Club Tobacco was his choice of tobacco”s, pretty strong stuff from what I remember. Even in his final days, he had to have his pipe, to hell with the Emphysema.

One of a few times Uncle Jim didn’t have his corn cob pipe. Looks like the dog “Star” and my brother Jim were hanging with him . This is in the back yard of the house, I think that the cinder block building/garage is about where the current metal shed is located, and the old outhouse in the background is about where the apple tree used to be.

Before the Christmas 2022 Blizzard

This image courtesy of my brother in law, John Luparell

For the first time in I can;t count the years, we are poised to have a white Christmas. I am all for that, I really like snow. The problem is the timing. This year, the “blizzard” is poised to hit us right smack dab in the middle of the Christmas travel season. There will be a lot of people who will not be able to get to their holiday destinations. For them, I am sorry, but I am looking forward to a Christmas with snow. Maybe in that sense, a normalcy may be working it’s way back into the season.

In anticipation of a weekend of no power and frigid temps, my brother in law, John Luparell and I headed down to the farm to grab my generator, just in case. The day could not have been better. It was sunny, there was absolutely no wind (that is so rare), and the temps were comfortable.

We loaded up the generator, and a space heater to bring back home (yep, I am getting old, and I need help lifting generators and space heaters into the back of my truck. John isn’t much younger than me, but between the 2 of us, we could muster up enough strength to load both items into the back of the truck, and then into my garage. Now we wait and see.

While we were at the farm, we decided to take advantage of the nice day, and we did some walking around back in the pasture. We went up and down the creek, I saw signs of critters at the creek, paw prints from raccoons, and I thought maybe an otter or maybe a mink, sliding into the water, to swim away from the danger of 2 old farts, walking the creek bank.

John discovered a couple of old bottles back along the fence, I am thinking they were from the early 60’s, but they were cool, so John took them home to my sister Kim. Nobody has said anything about them getting broke over his head, so she must have liked them. A little cleanup, and they will probably make a nice vase. Pretty sure that at one time, those glass vessels sit in the pantry of Aunt Millie’s kitchen. Pretty cool.

Now, the big question is; Will the Christmas 2022 Blizzard happen? Or will it be another all hype weather event, with a lot of “cold air”? Time will tell, I just know that the snowblower is ready, We have plenty of ice melt, and are as prepared as we can be, so we just wait and see. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all. I hope that the coming year is a good one for all. Don;t forget to follow my blog so you can continue to see my updates, and thanks for visiting.

A tough but simple life

When we look at all the modern conveniences that we have today, it is interesting to look back to life as Aunt Millie and Uncle Jim lived it on the farm. While it was not an easy life, it was simple. They probably had their own brand of stress, but at the end of the day, they pretty much had what they needed on the farm. If not, they made it out of what they had on the farm. Here are some tidbits from Aunt Millie’s cookbook that kind of give you a look at just how simple life was on the farm.

From Aunt Millie’s Cookbook

Let stand for 24 hours before use as a liniment

½ cup turpentine

1 cup of vinegar

1 egg

Mix well

Let stand for 24 hours before use as a liniment

Plant potatoes when sign is feet in the dark of the moon

Plant Squash after June 10th to keep bugs off

Put slice of onion on Bumblebee sting

Mantles Fish Bait

⅔ cup of Rye flour

⅓ cup of corn meal

Make a still dough with a little water

Flatten to a cake, boil till floats

For foundered horse

A teaspoon of pulverised alum. Put as far back as you can on horse’s tongue so horse gets it all.

Help for sore Bunion

Take 1 tablespoon fresh lard and 1 small teaspoon common baking soda. Mix and bind on bunion or rub on. Two of three applications usually sufficient

Going Hunting with Dad and Pop

Hunting is, and probably always will be a right of passage for many young men. I haven’t been hunting for years, but one of my favorite memories from the farm, was to go hunting for the first time with Dad and Pop. It was that day, that I felt like I was grown up.

I was still pretty young, so I could not actually carry a gun, but I had the important job of being the “bird dog”. My job was to stir up the pheasants or quail in the grass along the edge of the field. (No, I was not put into harms way, I had to walk behind, I was too young to know that I was just tagging along).

None the less, it was a great day, trudging thru the snow, quietly, I might add, waiting to see that pheasant or quail, or maybe even a rabbit, come out of the grass, and then find it’s way to our dinner table.

The best part of the hunting experience was coming back to the house. After an hour or so, the cold soaked into your bones. We all were looking forward to getting back to the house, getting out of our hunting garb, and backing our fannies up to the stove in the living room, by now, Jim had that thing glowing red, and I have to tell you, it felt mighty nice to soak up that heat. Of course once we got warmed up, the heat in the living room was pretty intense. Jim liked a warm room……

Placing Field Tile

A farmer’s work is never done. They are always trying to make things better, both for improved crop production, but also to do it in a more environmentally friendly fashion, both to save our resources, but to also increase their bottom line.

Having a front row seat to the farming process, I am amazed at the effort put into making the farming process better. Placing field tile to improve field drainage was a huge investment in time and resources, but it also had a huge impact on the farm, and on crop production.

As I visited Don and his crew, I learned a lot about the process and it’s impact on our environment. One of the most interesting facts that I learned was that a 1 inch rain drops over 27000 gallons of water on an acre of ground. Totally blew me away with that stat. No wonder you see fields with small lakes after a huge rain.

Those ponds and lakes on productive fields do nothing but cause problems for the farmer. If they are lucky, the field will dry out in time to replant if the area is large enough to bother. Many times that does not happen. This cuts production and profit at the end of the year. Not something that makes a farmer happy for sure.

There is a lot of information to share on this topic, so stay tuned for additional posts on the subject.

The Garden

You have heard the term “green thumb”. If you looked up a description for Aunt Millie, that would be at the top of the description. She could grow a garden that seems impossible to me. Every common vegetable from radishes to sweet corn was planted with care, and according to the signs of the moon. I think she used the Farmer’s Almanac to get her information on when to plant, but it was all by the different phases of the moon. It seemed to work for her, I remember helping her in the garden, harvesting some green beans and cucumbers and peppers. I remember munching on a fresh picked green bean, man they were good fresh picked. Think I would occasionally manage a green pepper too, one of my favorite garden veggies.

She also grew some of the best cantaloupes in the area. At least that is the story that I heard. She would bring a big bunch of them up and I would load up my wagon, maybe along with some cucumbers, maybe some green peppers and a tomato or two. I would walk my neighborhood street and it did not take long to empty the wagon. I don’t think she could have grown enough to satisfy the neighborhood, but we did have to make sure there was enough to enjoy ourselves…

While I remember how much fun it was to help Millie in the garden, today, I do not care to garden. If it weren’t for my wife, we would not get the fresh tomatoes, green peppers and other garden delicacies. I do love fresh veggies though….

Below, is a recipe from Aunt Millie’s recipe collection. I do remember these pickles, and I can attest to the delicious taste that thes had.

Bread & Butter Pickles

Heirloom recipe handed down from:             Millie Watts

Region of origin: N/A                                      Origin date: N/A

Tradition: Serve with Meals                                       Prep time: 2 hours          Servings: N/A

Ingredients

1 gallon of Cucumbers                               2 Tsp. of white mustard seed

1 Quart of onions                                        2 Tsp. of celery salt

4 green peppers

Salt, 1 quart of vinegar

2 cups of sugar

2 Tsp. of Turmeric

Instructions

Soak in salt water. Slice cucumbers, onions and green peppers. Sprinkle with salt while slicing. Add all ingredients and cook till tender. Put up in quart jars.