February 23, 2013

An Interview with a Farmer

The Homesteading revival is rapidly growing. It is apparent. You are reading this blog right? "We" homesteaders all have our reasons for joining in. We all have our ways that we contribute. My connection to homesteading began way before I was born. I am the proud descendant of generations that lived off the earth. For my family, this was just not a hobby or a trend, it was life.
By the time I was born, most of our family had retired and moved "into town" making me a city girl. But I was never far from this way of life. Stories, traditions and skills were handed down to me.

But I wanted to know more. Farming, the agrarian lifestyle, what was it REALLY like? Lucky for me I did not have to go far to have my questions answered. With questions, paper and pen in hand, I headed out for a long overdue visit with my grandfather's sister and her husband, my Uncle Cliff and Aunt Madonna. They were very happy to answer my questions. After spending the whole day visiting, laughing and eating some of my Aunt's incredible Chicken Noodle soup, I have a better vision of what it is like to be a farmer. This is their story of farming.

Interview with a Farmer
*CB=Uncle Cliff
*MB=Aunt Madonna

How did you start farming?
CB: My family were farmers. Well I was born in 1934. Right on the kitchen table in the old farm house. (laughter) We all lived in the that house. It was our family farm, started in the 1860's. My family had fruit trees, vegetables, animals for meat, chickens, and a dairy cow. We grew hay too. We got everything we needed there. My family would go into East Toledo to sell the fruit and vegetables to places, restaurants there. Then they would buy 100 pounds of sugar and flour to bring back home. That was all they needed to buy. My Mom and Grandmother canned and we ate what we grew.

Did you always want to be a farmer? 

CB: I never thought about it, it just was what I was. Eventually, I took over the farm. My grandfather built the house we are in now and the barn and I continued.

Did you like being a farmer?

CB: yes. It was good, hard but good
MB: Oh, it was fun! I had a shock after I married him though. I did not know for sure what I got into, but it was fun.

Aunt Donna what did you on the farm?
MB: I drove tractor, would drive the water truck, and I cooked for the workers. Helped where ever I could. I canned using Uncle Cliff's mom's Conservo, that was the best way to can. I loved being on the farm maybe it is like you said it is because it is where our family comes from, the blood memory.

You are now retired, how many years has it been?
CB: I started slowing down when I was 62, but finally fully retired in 1998. We sold the farm land in Michigan and moved back down here to Ohio. 

You farmed here on the family farm until the 1980s then bought a farm up in Michigan. How many acres did you farm here in Ohio? How many in Michigan? What was your main crop?

CB: Here on the Ohio farm we had 85 acres. In Michigan we had 525 acres. The farm in Ohio we raised cattle, we had 125 at a time. We grew our own feed for them here too.We would send them out to be butchered and sold. But we also kept beef for the family. A steer a year would feed the family.  In Michigan, we farmed Potatoes, onions and carrots. We also handled our own washing and packaging in Michigan.

Did you raise any other animals besides cattle?

CB: Sure, we always had some kind of animal here. We had sheep, chickens, we had pigs once, Tom (his son) raised them, but that was not for me, I said no more. We did not butcher our own cattle but we have processed our own chickens. That was an adventure, we had a assembly line going. Then after a long hot day, we came in and your Great Grandma and her sister made dinner for us, Chicken Dinner, not really what we wanted to eat at that time. But those were the best chickens we had that time.

What do you think about the Homesteading Revival?

CB: I think it is good, it is good to be able to take care of yourself and family. Especially with everything so expensive. But the days of the small farms and making money from them are gone. It is not affordable like it use to be. I think it is great that you are gardening, and have your chickens. It is not a bad thing to do.

As far as food goes, Organic or Not? Why?

CB: You know, there is no difference, nutritional difference. A Organic vegetable and a non-organic vegetable is the same vegetable. They hold the same nutritional value. I would be more concerned eating a organic vegetable.  People do not realize how often wildlife roam out into the fields, and there you have fecal matter on the food. You need to clean your food. Even as a packager, we had to clean everything with chlorine treated water before we could ship or store the vegetables. Plus, you do not know if everyone is doing their jobs correctly, even with organics. We even at home clean our fruits and vegetables with a little bit of diluted water and bleach.

So you used chemicals when you farmed?

CB: Only when you have too. And then you have to be licensed, take so many classes and so many hours to renew your license. You cannot just use chemicals as you please. You have to only use the chemical for the problem. For example, if you have nematodes in the soil eating the carrots. I can only use the the right chemical, I cannot buy more than I need and there are strict regulations on how many ounces I am allowed to use to the acre of the problem. Let's say it is a 40 acre area being infected, I can only use the amount and type to cure the 40 acres nothing more. We do not just spray to spray chemicals, we can't.

Do you think anyone can farm? Or does it take a special knack?

CB:Farming has changed so much. Even since I have retired. So much of the tools are all electronic, GPS is big now. I can fix a tractor but now a days? A guy comes out with his computer, to fix one. I would not even know how to farm with the way it has changed. You have to understand all the new technology and computers to farm now. It is amazing how much it has changed.

Is that a bad thing?

CB: No, it is great, it makes it easier. I would just be lost. I still get farm magazines and keep up with it all. Just like how they are able to make plants stronger. Science has really helped the farmer.

What do you mean, like GMO's?

CB: Yes, I think it is wonderful, the fact that we now have plants that are made to hold up during droughts and with stand certain disease, Having these types of plants helps produce higher yields in crops. The small farms and making a living off a small farm is gone, sad but true. It is the large farms that feed this country. So we need to have better crops.

What do you think of the Farmer's Almanac? Should I use it for my garden planting times?

CB: (chuckles) I think it is a lot more accurate then those guys on T.V! As far as when to plant, sure use it. Plant when the ground is ready, when you can work it, with no danger of frost. Or be prepared to be out there covering up everything.

Thanks for doing this. One last thing, Do you have any tricks of the trade or Old wives tales I should know about?

CB: No, not really, I just know when it is time to plant. Know your ground/soil, make sure it is rich and full of the things it needs, and pray that you never get hail.
MB: Never do canning when it is your time of the month. I always was told that. Never really thought much about it, until one time I happened to can during that time, and not one, not one single jar sealed. So, I wonder...




Meredith/GreenCircleGrove said...

What a fun day you must have had! Very interesting observations, too--now I want to ask these same questions of my dad, who's also a retired farmer. Good advice, too, from both of them. Thanks for sharing your family with us!

Sheila Menendez said...

What a terrific time - I can just about hear the gravel in his voice and feel her laughter as she described not really knowing what she was getting into.

Brilliant! Thanks for sharing.

Know your dirt, why yes, thank you - that's a VERY good piece of advice.

Luisa Chandler said...

Haha! That last comment made me laugh! I found from Farmhouse38. This was a very interesting read. I couldn't help but think of my grandparents as I was reading it. Thank you for sharing!