Friday, October 3, 2008

The Old Farm

I've been talking to my mother a lot this week. My dad has pneumonia, and I want to check up. But I can't seem to get on the phone with her without gabbing for an hour. So what did we talk about last time? It was about her growing up on the farm.

We were talking about how we need to get over to green energy; how our country needs to make a concerted effort and sacrifice to do this. I said the country hadn't done that since the effort in WWII. That started her reminiscing about that time. She was a child then. She said they loaned out sections of the farm so people would have a place to grow victory gardens. She would sell the extra cottage cheese they made from their cow door to door. The only money coming in was from her mom who worked in the library (our family LOVES books). That shocked me. I thought the farm was so much bigger. I thought it was what brought in the money.

I had visited it when I was little. I don't remember much: sitting on the tractor, running through the orchard, the grape arbor, all the little things a three (?) year old might vaguely remember. As a child I thought the farm was huge. But my mom said it was just to feed the family.

I figured it was the farm that had been in our family for generations. I know our family had farmed in the Ohio area for generations (seven I think, but I'd have to look it up to be exact). I know one of my ancestors was swindled out of his farm at one point. He went to the city and made enough money to come home and buy another farm. But after that I figured they stayed on the same farm and it would be big, or at least big enough to make some of their money from. Maybe it had been divided over the years? Or maybe it had just been let to go fallow when they weren't farming for a living. (Update from months in the future: My mother said the farm was very recent. Her grandmother or was it great grandmother, was a nurse and took care of a rich old man before he died. As a gift in his will my great grandmother and great grandfather were bequeathed the farm.)

Sadly the farm was sold about forty years ago. The farmhouse was torn down for a road into the new development. The farm was turned into apartments. The last time I was there was for my grandmother's funeral. My brother and I went to visit the spot. The only sign of it was a small forest of huge evergreen trees. They were all planted close together in rows. They towered over the path that goes through them. The trees were planted by my uncle. They were meant to be sold as Christmas trees and used for his college education. Obviously these got a reprieve.

None of our family farm anymore. The kids have all flown the coop and are scattared across the US. No one even lives in Ohio anymore. All of the rest of them moved out west. My cousin and I are the only outliers. She lives in Paris. I live in Boston. I still garden though and dream of chickens. Years ago I dreamed of chickens and goats, now I only dream of chickens. Ok and maybe some apple trees and gooseberries and strawberries that are miraculously not eaten by chipmunks and . . . .


  1. See many farm following your story. Sad. Still, you garden and dream. Urban chickens are a reality in a lot of places. Goats are coming. They need less space than a Great Dane. They don't bark, bite, or attack strangers (usually). They only need an advocate to push the regulators for permission. (Pygmy goats are a good place to start. They are small, and you can get a bit of milk from them.) Keep dreaming!

  2. Right there with you... with the recent passing of my father, Jason and I went back to my family farm with my brother. It was pretty sad. However, like you, we are carrying pieces of those farms and the spirit of them with us into our urban spaces and, eventually, to our own family farms to start the cycle over again.

  3. Thanks for sharing. Our small family farms served this country well. So many people have farms in their past, and from their farming families they learned to value the land, to love good food, self reliance, and the value of hard work.

    My grandparents, too, were farmers, and my grandmother and great grandmother also cooked in logging camps. My mother always had a garden -- farming is in my genetic code, it seems.

    Go for some chickens. They are heaps of fun and an excellent source of fertilizer :-)
    Ali in Maine

  4. My great-grandparents were dairy farmers and some of their children lived on at the ranch after it was no longer working, until their deaths. I grew up poking around in the abandoned barns and splashing through the creek that ran through their property. I'm afraid to go back now, it's probably a development as in the case of your family's farm. But their efforts live on in my mom's fanatical devotion to her vegetable and fruit garden, and in my own very down-scaled efforts. Nice post!

  5. I would love to go for chickens. But I'd need a pet sitting service that does chickens. My friends would help me out part of the time, but I have one vacation every year that all my friends come with me (or at least the ones close enough that I would feel comfortable asking them to help with chickens).

  6. I think there is a farmer gene. I feel so at-home and alive working in the garden. Like I am part of a great tradition that has supported the human race since the beginning of time.