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The Southern Life of Working and Living on a Small Farm
This Story About
farming, as early American pioneers named it, or agriculture, in the United States now covers periods that began with English settlers to the present day. Colonial America saw agriculture as the primary livelihood for ninety percent of the population. Most farms were engineered toward subsistence production for family use. Early America saw swift growth of population and the expansion of the frontier that opened up huge numbers of new farms, plus clearing the land (e.g. "new ground") was a major focus of farmers. After 1800, cotton became the main crop in southern plantations, and the top American export. After 1840, industrialization and urbanization evolved to lucrative domestic markets. The foundation of farms grew from 1.4 million in 1850, to 4.0 million in 1880, and 6.4 million in 1910; then started to fall, dropping to 5.6 million in 1950 and 2.2 million in 2008.
Statistics Do Not
lie. No one who has "only" read stories about farming without tending one row of a cotton field is not a farmer. The unspoken rule is: "until your hands are callused and your back seems broken, then and only then are you looked upon as a farmer." This is true. Farmers, by some, look upon farmers as just a chef that owns a lot of land. Not so. Going from the early English settlers to the mega-agribusinessmen of our land, farming has had a change in faces.
What used to be the norm for a man dressed in ragged overalls with an equally-ragged straw hat walking behind a smelly mule keeping a plow into the ground and feeling dead at sundown is not the norm in 2017. Today's agribusinessman does have something in common with the first farmer that I mentioned. The agribusinessman of today gets up at 5 a.m. and works until 10 p.m. This is true. And even with the thousands and thousands of dollars worth of complex and useful farming equipment, "this" farmer still feels the onslaught of falling pork, beef, and grain markets as well as the ever-increasing fear of his crops not producing what he needs to make his bills.
Not many farmers who are still here today can trace their roots back to those old guys with ragged overalls talking to a smelly mule. The "never say die" attitude and will of these men of old somehow has either faded or just died. Either way, it is sad when one farmer throws in the towel.
Now Comes The
pleasantries of this piece. And absolutely, you can find happiness, peace, and satisfaction by being a farmer and living with his various trials. The measuring stick could tell us that today the degree of happiness has declined in modern days as opposed to those simple days of farming when entire families were (the) farmer, not just the father.
Consider this for a moment. Have you ever just stopped long enough to talk to someone in your family or neighborhood who either retired as farmer or is still farming? This would pay you to do either one if you haven't really walked in this farmer's shoes--experienced his heartbreaks, held his head weeping for one of his prize beef cattle dying and having to tell the banker that his payment will be late.
Farming can be understood as a two-way street. One street with hard work from sunrise to sunset while the other street is those happy times with him, his wife, children and grandchildren showing up for a big dinner and for no occasion. Times like this are what makes a farmer go to bed with that hope of seeing another day.
that were normal for the farmer of yesteryear. If you happen to be a "non-time farmer," this may interest you and then again this may shock you into going into selling men's clothing when you graduate from college. But even if you do sell men's clothing, you did get something from this piece.
The farmer of yesteryear had little or no luxuries such as heat pumps. He depended on his fireplace to keep the family warm even with "that" terrible winter was predicted in the Farmer's Almanac. In the hot summer, this same farmer did not know how to spell air conditioning. He and his family just powered through those hot days and nights and opened up the windows wide. And sometimes the weahter was so hot that some families just sat up outside talking to avoid tossing and turning in what seems an inferno of a bed.
At every morning around 5 a.m., rain or shine, hot and cold, the farmer, who must have had a stubborn streak rather than take the day off or sleep in a few hours, got up regardless the weather and how many acres that he had to till in a ten-hour day.
Before the family had breakfast, each family member had a task to do. While one son got in the stovewood and another daughter collected the hen eggs for meals. The smaller kids fed their livestock and the parents (sometimes) both cooked and talked over that day's activities or maybe the father just looked over his equipment to make sure that the tools would hold out maybe one more week until harvest time would be over.
And during each day that you have just read, there were those children's diseases--mumps, measles, and chicken pox, but with each childhood disease, there was one of the mother's homemade remedies that her mother had handed down from her mother and so went the life lines of families.
Then came the day when the rain washed out farming or planting when the ground was too muddy to work. Those times counted against any farmer. Plus the time that the farmer had to take out another loan from the bank to get a new plow that had just been broken by a huge rock hiding underneath the farmer's field of cotton.
Yes, There Were The Fun Times
that accompanied every family that farmed. Even with the fear of feasting or famine as the old adage goes, the family grew stronger with and during each trial. The farmer with these adverse conditions sometimes asked God while he was out of the earshot of his wife and kids, "God, are you just testing us to see how much we can endure?" Of course God would never just come right out and give an audible answer, but if He did, the sign of a gorgeous raindow and the rains subsiding were good enough of a answer for the struggling farmers.
Sometimes a farmer and his family would take the day off. When Thanksgiving, Christmas rolled over again, the family ceased labors to be with friends and families who had traveled a great distance to just see the smiling faces of their relatives whom they had missed the entire year. Since sending letters from the post office was the only way of communication, being without television, radio, laptops and internet made it tough for families to stay close.
What would be considered a "fun" game for children? Hide and seek; Tag; Playing house (but only the girls because they knew how to make nice playhouses and the boys only laughed and giggled at them) and both boys and girls had a ball playing in the barn--jumping on the loose hay from the hayloft, swinging on the rope that the farmer had forgotten to roll up and put away. In these simple days, children used their imaginations to take the place of any lack that the big city toys and "electronic pleasures" had not caught up with them as of yet. But these ever-prevailing children did more than just get by. They made life a 24-hour measure of adventure, fun, and interesting things to do and learn.
This piece is lovingly-dedicated to those hard-working farmers with ragged overalls and straw hats for you were the super-men of our day. The invincible heroes that we are still talking about.
To find out more about workings of the early American farm, read:
History of agriculture in the United States
© 2017 Kenneth Avery