Farming Today Compared to the Old Way
Several harvester machines at work
Wheat farming the modern way
Welcome to our article (20), Farming today compared to the old ways
Dear readers, I want to talk about farming today compared to the old ways, because I can mentally see the great difference that it has made in our standard of living. So, I believe that today we are better off than we were before; but let me see how I can describe this difference. Anyhow, I am writing about my life story, so, I mentally compare the ways of life of today to the ways of life in the past when I was young; for this reason, I have become aware that there is a great difference; in fact, the difference is so great that it is worth writing an entire article to explain my personal point of view.
Anyhow, we must acknowledge that this modern wheat farming in Australia, and in other parts of the world, it has slashed the present cost of living a lot, and this helps us to live a better life. We believe that this has happened because of the new farming machines available to the farmers, and the fertilises available to them; so, farmers are able to produce wheat and other produce a lot cheaper than in the past, so, food has become cheaper, therefore, we are better off today in many ways.
In this article, we invite our readers to compare how different farming and farming life was at the time when I was young in the fifties, and also, how hard was life then because most of us had to work hard just to earn enough to feed ourselves and our families.
This difference that we are talking about applies to the farmers and the general public as well, because today it affects both in a beneficial way. So, there is a lot to be said about this great difference in cost and hardship or easiness, and this has happened during my life timelifetime. So, I believe that our standard of living has improved a lot, at least in the sense of being able to feed ourselves with wheat and other farm products, because the cost of farm products are more affordable today than in the past; so, let us compare the cost of living, perhaps for the sake of seeing where we have come from and how much we have improved since then.
Today we often wonder how easy it is to grow and harvest wheat, at least it seems so when we look at a video that shows harvest time in the wheat farms, we see a few harvester machines in a field collect the wheat in no time at all, and because of this speed of these wonderful combine harvester machine food is a lot cheaper today than it used to be; of course these machines are only part of the machinery that helps the farmers produce the wheat, because there are many more machines required. So, let us talk about some other machinery that the farmers require.
Some modern farm machines
Some farmers' machinery
Now let us talk about the farmer’s machinery and the benefit that has come from them; of course, this is due to the industrial revolution that has started a long time ago, and last century has reached the farming communities improving it a lot. It seems to me that the farming sector has been one of the last communities that has benefited from the industrial revolution, anyhow, that doesn’t matter how it has worked out, because today we are better off, so, let us talk about these machines.
We can say that the most important machine in the farms is the tractor, as this machine can be used in all sorts of farming, in wheat farming the tractor is followed by the harvester machine and other devices to till the soil and to sow the seeds, and all these machines put together make farming a lot easier today, therefore, wheat can be produced a lot cheaper, this of course helps keep the price of bread and other wheat made products down, since wheat is the main food elements required in the western world to prepare food, therefore, this new way of farming helps a great deal just about everybody, since wheat is one of the main ingredients to make foods for us to eat, and we require lots of it.
Of course, if we want to talk about farming there is more to say than just wheat farming, because there are many other things that the bloke on the land can produce, see this link here-under how Wikipedia explains farming.
Dear readers, now that we have talked about these farmer’s machines, let us talk about wheat farming and the great benefit that we get from it; we must be happy about what is happening because it is a good thing for all of us; so, we want to point out that there is a great difference in the ways of living, and we are a lot better off today than we were when I was young, so, let us compare some of the benefits that we have achieved, since today the farmers can use these farm machines that the industrial revolution has made for us.
Supermarkets milk at one dollar per litre
Let us compare these benefits.
Now, let us compare the great difference between today and the past. For comparison sake; today here in Australia there are a few places that a 600g loaf of bread costs you just one dollar, we know that this bread is sold at a very special price from these supermarket, in order to get the customers to the shop, but we wonder and we do not know how it can be done so cheap but they do it anyhow, this very low price of bread is possible only because the farmer can produce the wheat cheap for a start.
Then, because the wheat is cheap the price of bread can be cheap, the supermarkets make it even cheaper to attract customers, because the supermarkets have a price war to attract customers on bread and also on milk, so, we can buy a loaf of bread for one dollar and we can buy a two litre bottled milk for two dollars, that works out at one dollar per litre, again how they can do it I do not know, but they do it anyhow; so, there is plenty of cheap wholesome food around for us to enjoy, thanks to the farmers and the supermarkets. (We hope that this will last for a long time, but I have my doubts). Anyhow, I must point out that in the past, the price of bread and milk was a lot dear, in fact there have been times, when people were struggling to feed themselves, as we will explain before we finish writing this article.
But even though bread and milk is cheap beyond compare, there are people that still complain about the cost of living today, I know that what I am talking about here are only a few items and a lot more are needed to live well. But for comparison sake let us show you how easily we can afford to buy bread and milk to day, you see today, while I am writing this article for the first time, most people on the government old age pension in Australia receive about 700 dollars per fortnight, which would be about 50 dollars per day, they can easily afford to buy bread and milk and other food items.
Now that we have said how easy it is to buy bread and other staple food today, let us see how things were done in the past. You see, when I was young things were a lot harder than today, for sure we could not buy bread and milk as easy as we buy them today, because to produce these things took a lot more physical work than today, therefore, they were a lot more expensive, they were so because the way of producing them was different, in order to show you what we mean, we are going to describe how wheat farming was done at the time when I was young, and how hard it was for some people just to have something to eat, even if it was just a piece of bread and butter, bread and milk, or bread and tomatoes or other basic things that one could find in the fields if you were in the farms. Anyhow, let me describe how farming was done then, in this following sub-article, farming the old ways, so, we can have a better understanding of the whole issue, and be able to compare the past with the present way of farming.
Horse drawn old harvester machine
Farming the old way
Dear readers, to compare and explain how farming was done at the time when I was young, we are going to write here the way of farm life that was going on in those times; we know already that things have changed for the better since then, as we have written above, because of the tractor and new farming machinery that have come out since then, all due to the industrial revolution or progress; which we have experienced in the last hundred years or so, but when I was young there were a lot less advanced farming machine that could make farming easy, of course, the tractors were already there, but they were very expensive to buy for most of the small farmers, so, we had to do most things the old ways. Now let me tell you how life was in the farms of southern Italy in the early fifties and earlier.
It is a well-known fact that in those times and even now, there are two times during the year, when in the farms everybody is working hard and working very long hours; one of this was sowing time and the other is harvest time, let us start with sowing times. When I was young the working day at sowing time would start two hours before dawn, because we had to make the horses, mules and other animals ready for working in the fields, we had to feed them and water them as well, it had to be done in such a way that everything should be made ready to go into the fields at daybreak.
At that time of the year in the morning it was very cold and there are lots of frosty days, so, in the morning the outside temperature could be around zero or below, it is very hard then to harness the horses to the plough as everything one touches is so cold; but then when one gets going it is not so bad, because walking in the fields holding the plough in one hand and guiding the horses with the other hand is hard work and it makes one warm. This type of very hard work at sowing time goes on for about a month if the weather is good and perhaps it could be longer than a month. When the sowing is done then everything slows down again, but we had still to look after the farms’ animals and do other farming chores; see this article My farm life continues, where we describe what we did after sowing, and what we did during the winter time.
Now let us talk about harvest time, since this is the busiest time in the farms, because harvest time is when the farmers collect the fruits of their hard labour, so, there is no time to be wasted at harvest time, therefore, this was and is the most hectic time of the year for all the farmers, and it is a very worrying time too for the farmers, you see if something goes wrong all their work goes down the drain for the whole year, so to speak. Here we are talking about mostly how things were run in the farms when I was young.
Now let us say a few things about today farming, especially about wheat farming, because wheat is one of the most important produce that we need from farming, as we have already said at the beginning of this article. With wheat we make bread and pasta and other bakery products, therefore, it is the most important farm produce that we use. So, let us compare what is changed in wheat farming since I was young:
Smaller version of a typical threshing machine
Wheat harvest in the fifties
The following description is the way of wheat harvest time in the fifties. When I was young we had already a horse drawn harvester that was helping us, this early harvester was able to cut the wheat plants and tie them in bundles, so, we were already halfway down the track of progress, as this machine saved us a lot of work, because we did not have to harvest by hand, which is a very labour intensive job, as we are going to describe later in this article. Anyhow, at this time of the year everybody in the farm works hard and for very long hours, it is very hot and everything is very dry. We get up very early in the morning, we get the horses ready for working by feeding them and watering them, then we harness the horses and set them to pull the harvester, and off we go in the fields for another day of hard work, if everything goes well, we might be able to go over a ten-acre field just in one day with this harvester. The harvester needs two people to get it working, one drives the horses and another regulate the harvester, the harvester goes around the field and leaves these bundles of wheat or other cereal, whatever has been sown in the field. Now these bundles of wheat will be collected in hips around the field from other people as soon as possible, the hips of these bundles of wheat are made is such a way that if it rains the rain would run off easily, these hips of wheat will be collected later when we finish with the harvester, perhaps in a week or two, then we will go back to the fields with a cart to take everything on a special plot near the farmhouse, where the trashing machine will be hired and set.
When we collect and cart everything to the farm house, we work very long days, we get up before 4 am, but we have a break of two or three hours at lunchtime because it is too hot to do anything, then we go back to work and between real work and looking after the animals we finish at dusk around 8 pm, after that we only have to feed the horses: this sort of work goes on for more than a month and sometimes up to two months, with no breaks at all seven days a week. Everybody in the farm works to their maximum and they are very tired, they are also very worried about the possible fire hazard, and also of any thunder storms at this time of the year, since anyone of these happenings can destroy the whole crop, and a whole year of hard work can go up in smoke. So, we are all working hard, and at the same time we are praying God and waiting for the trashing machine to come and finish our harvest.
When some famer did not have a lot of wheat to trash, they could use a place in common with other farmers, so that, the trashing machine would not have to be set several times. The trashing machine that were around and we would hire together with other farmers came with a large crew, because it was a very larg machine, bigger than the one shown in this article, it had a crew of about twenty people, it was a very interesting time when we were trashing our own wheat, oats, barley, etc. Because we were anxious to see how much wheat and other product we had made.
Now there were many other things that I could tell you, but I better not to make this story short. Anyhow, here I want to say that when one goes through these life experiences in the farm, one knows that farming life is hard; but since this is the only way to grow food to feed ourselves, we the farmers keep working in our farms to feed ourselves and the rest of the community.
So, we the farmers feel that it would be right if the rest of the community appreciates our efforts, so, they should be thanking us for all the hard work that we have done, after all, we are providing all those things that are necessary to makes food for the rest of the community; but it does not happen that way, because even when we are working our guts out, and while we are doing that we are becoming dull, the rest of the community does not care and they label us as dull people; their attitude hurts us very much and we believe that we don’t deserve that; just because we are farm people, but we have done our part of hard work for our own benefit and for the benefit of the entire community. So, we the farmers feel hurt to say the least.
This is how life was then in the small farms of Southern Italy. Anyhow, this town people attitude as I have said above, plus some very lean years when we hardly could survive, and because we had only a small farm and it would have been hard to expand was one of the reasons why I left farming and migrated to Australia. But anyhow let us continue to describe how harvesting was done the very old way, so, that we can compare it to today’s living.
Man with a sickle and a handful of wheat
Harvesting the very old way
Now, before we come to a close, because we want to compare the very old ways of farming with today farming, we need to say how harvesting wheat was done before my times; here we need to say that I have witnessed the last part of this old practice when I was young. You see, when I was young we were already using a horse drawn harvester, and it was very helpful; but there were people that had some small holdings and we had one of these ourselves, it was in a place, where it was hard to go with the harvester that we had, so, we had to use the old ways for harvesting our wheat for that small wheat field, because that was the only way to do it for one reason or another.
So, let me describe how harvesting was done in those old bygone days; at harvesting time strange as it may seem today, we could hire some specialized people that were good at using the sickle, these people usually went from town to town to do this seasonal harvesting job; we need also to explain that in Southern Italy because the terrain has different altitude the wheat reaches maturity at different times, this was helping these seasonal workers to have a longer span of work, now just to compare those very hard times with today times, I have to tell you that these workers were sleeping anywhere they could on a sack filled up with straws under a shelter if they could find one, as they could not afford anything else. In the morning they would get up early and wait in the town square hoping that somebody would hire them for the day.
Now let us say that we had a small plot about one acre and we could not use the harvester, because it was not possible to go there, we would hire four people and form a gang that could harvest one acre in one day and collect it in hips, that later would be taken on a cart to the farm house to be threshed one way or another.
In the old times anything that had grown in the field was collected, it needed to be collected for the people to survive, because the fields did not produce as much as they do today, because they could not be cultivated with our modern machines. You see, today we have the tractor to cultivate the fields and it does a better job than the horse drawn plough, we have many types of fertilizer to help us grow more wheat but let us go back to talk about very old harvesting times.
Old time wheat harvesting
From wheat bundles to clean wheat grains
Wheat havesting and threshing the old ways
Now I must say briefly how the older generations before my times used to thresh their harvests, to collect their produce. Now, let us suppose that it was a few bundles of wheat to be threshed one could even extract the wheat by hitting them with a stick, but let us say that we had a cartful, or many cartsful for that matter, then we had to use a different method, which is the way that most farm used in the very old times for centuries, before the trashing machine was invented, so, let me tell you how it was done.
I happen to know this procedure, because in the farms when I was young, we were still using this method with smaller crops, most likely broad beans, lentils, chickpeas, linseed, and other farm produce that were not meant to go through the wheat trashing machine. When we were doing this procedure of trashing these minor crops, the elder would always be telling us that this was the way that they used to collect their wheat as well and usually it took them a few months to collect all the season produce. So, now let me describe this to you, so that we can compare the difference.
In order to do this old trashing, first of all we needed to prepare a piece of ground that is very solid and smooth, this can be achieved by stripping the old dry grass on a piece of land that had a large clay content, then wet it with a little bit of water to make it compact; once that was ready we would place our wheat or whatever was to be threshed and collected on this clean ground, then we would get our horses mule and donkeys whatever animals were available and drive them around and around until everything was threshed. Of course there was a lot more to say, but let us make it short otherwise it would become too boring.
Now, once the threshing was done we had to separate the produce from the straw and any other foreign matter, this was achieved by removing the straws from the top layer making sure that no produce was left with the straws, at the same time we would collect the bottom layer in a hip, once that was done we would have to clean that produce by using the wind, to take away the finer parts that were still mixed with the wheat or whatever it was, and there were many other things that we could use to get this wheat clean, by the end of the day we could have collected two or three hundred kilograms of produce, and when we did that we thought that we had done well for a day work.
In the very ancient times was even worse, see what they were using in the Medieval Times, here is a link to check out some ancient farm tools including the Flail and Winnowing Basket used to collect and clean wheat.
I hope that this gives the modern reader a view of how thing were done in the old times, so, I do not want to say much more about how all this threshing and cleaning of the wheat was done, because even writing about it is boring today, but anyhow it needed to be done in those days, because that was the only way to collect our wheat to make bread and other things to eat. Now, my dear reader’s do you see how hard was then even to collect wheat for ourselves, so that we could make bread and other cereal product.
I hope I have been able to write something that really sets up the great difference of the ways of life that we were living then and the ways of life that we are living now, for this I want you to compare and judge for yourself how much better off we are today.
To the young people who think that today life is hard, let me describe to you what I have witnessed when I was young, because then life really was harder than today, you see those days everybody had to find how to earn enough to feed themselves there were no handover from the government. So, the very poor people of those days were trying to collect anything they could to feed themselves, as I have witnessed these things myself, so, let me describe this to you:
You see, at harvest time this is what I have witnessed, I have seen old and poor people mainly old ladies go around the fields and pick up any ear of wheat that was left behind in the fields, one ear of wheat here and another ear wheat there until they had the strength to go around, they did this each day until harvest time was over and there was nothing else to collect; and I tell you what these poor people were happy if in the end they had collected enough ears of wheat that they could trash and clean themselves, perhaps they could have collected enough to make 50 to 100 kilos of wheat during harvest time and they were happy because, they could make bread from this wheat and not go hungry for a few months.
Now I hope that you can see what I mean when I say that the youths of today don’t know anything about hard times?
Anyhow, I hope that today this abundance of cheap food lasts for a long time, because things can change in the future. Today the climatic change is the worrying part, because we don’t know how much it is going to affect the farms and our lives.
I believe that this article is too long already, so, see you in our next article, the town that I have come from, Genzano di Lucania. See you then.
© 2012 F-Menchise