Thursday, September 03, 2015

Real Farms Are Beautiful Places

As published in the Citizen-Record newspaper on Wednesday, September 2, 2015 by Sara Jewell.

           For years, I have read the non-fiction books of an American author named Jon Katz. I discovered him first through his writings about his dogs and followed his adventures – some easy, some not – as he moved from a suburb in New Jersey to a working farm in Vermont.
Through Katz’s honest and insightful storytelling style, I learned a lot about rural living long before I became a rural dweller myself. Now in his sixties, Katz now writes almost exclusively on his blog, and when I read the following lines from one of his posts, I had to copy them out and save them:
 “Real farms are beautiful places,” Katz wrote, “orchestrations of chaos, where junk is utilitarian, nothing is new, nothing is ever thrown away, everything is used. Farmers use up every spare inch of their barns, their stuff and machines spilling out into driveways, pastures and yards. Farmers are obsessive tinkerers, they are always patching, stitching, welding and praying. Real farms have always been beautiful to me, manifestations of family, values, individuality and the hardest imaginable work.”
This quote resonated deeply with me, who was not raised on a farm, not raised in the country, because it reminds me of my nearly 90-year-old father-in-law. From his stories about growing up on a farm and becoming a farmer himself, raising three children as he worked on the farm, in the woods and on the roads as a truck driver, I hear unspoken details that allow me to imagine the “patching, stitching, welding and praying” he must have done as he worked from dawn until dark.
            It was work he loved and wanted to do, “the hardest imaginable work” he was proud to claim as his own. Now his barns sit empty and his fields are mowed by a younger man and his family trying to hold on to their “real” farm.
            So now that the Cumberland County Exhibition is underway in Oxford, take a moment and look around. If you need to, take a drive and look around. Stop and watch a herd of cattle. Breathe in the smell of grass and manure. Then head over to the Exhibition and look at what a small, dedicated group of farmers and their families are persisting in doing. Find a farmer and shake his or her hand. Get your shoes dirty during the Agriculture Awareness Tours offered every afternoon for the rest of this week.
            Remind yourself where you came from. Or where you wish you’d come from.   
            There is no way to put the brakes on rural decline but inevitability doesn’t make it right and it doesn’t mean our society won’t suffer. The real disaster of losing our rural communities is that our country was built on the hard work and tinkering, the values and skills of farmers. Please don’t miss the irony that towns and cities are built literally on the land to which farmers dedicated themselves for generations. There is always that minor detail of where our food should come from.
Those aren’t giant marshmallows in that field, people. That’s your 2% milk and your ground beef.
            It’s happened so slowly, we don’t really notice but when we’ve replaced real farms with grocery stores, goats and sheep with whipper snippers and tree mulchers, and exhibitions with amusement parks, all those little losses add up to one great big void.
            When we lose our farms, and the rural communities that grew up around them, we lose other skills than what we can patch, stitch and weld. We forget how to talk with our neighbours, we forget what it’s like to take care of and support real people living around us, we forget that the land and the sea and the sky existed long before the office towers and big box stores and articulated buses did. We lose our truly beautiful places.
            And we won’t understand a poster listing all the ways a person can tell if he or she is a farmer, especially the final item on the list: “You can fix almost anything with baler twine.”

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