Life on the Farm

Friday Night Lights

Every farm kid who grew up before the change-everything 1970s changed almost everything will recall Friday evenings meant quick chores, a quick supper, and a family night in town.

Back then, nearly every store in nearly every rural community remained open for business until 9 p.m. on Fridays so everyone–but mostly farm families–could shop, stroll the storefronts, or just visit […]

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Death Taxes: Only for the One Percenters

Most Americans know there are three, unalterable facts of life: death, taxes, and farmers howling about “death taxes.”

And just between you and me, there’s an-oft whispered, rarely acknowledged fourth fact of life: Nearly every farm leader knows there’s no such thing as a “death tax”–federal taxes due upon death–for 99 percent of all farmers.

That’s not an opinion; […]

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Four Books That Reach for the Heart, Mind, and Immortality

Writers write, according to some poet, to make themselves immortal. True or not, it was true for that writer because that’s an unforgettable, maybe even immortal, line.

Most times, however, writers write out of compulsion; they see a story that needs to be told and they grab some paper and verbs to tell it. Below are […]

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The Actual Costs of the ‘Industrial Mind’

In an essay in his new book, Hogs Are Up, Wes Jackson, founder of the Land Institute near Salina, KS, revisits a speech he gave in Coon Rapids, IA, in August 2009 to mark the 50th anniversary of Nikita Khrushchev’s famous visit to the Roswell Garst farm.

During that cornfield summit, suggests Jackson, Garst and Khrushchev chatted about […]

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Riding the Metal Wave Left by My Iron-Bending Uncle Honey

One job on the southern Illinois dairy farm of my youth was to walk just-cultivated corn or soybean fields to find the cultivator parts–disk blades, sweeps, even whole shanks–left broken and unseen by my quiet, iron-bending great Uncle Honey earlier in the day.

Honey was a skilled cultivator killer. The problem wasn’t the design of our Case cultivator. […]

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Worker Wages are Not the Cause of Higher Food Prices

After my first year at the Big U, I returned to the southern Illinois dairy farm of my youth for a summer of work. The first task, however, was to ask my father to double my hourly pay from 50-cents an hour, the amount I’d been paid through high school, to $1 per hour.

“Well,” Dad […]

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More Greenhouse Gas Comes from Rural Leaders Than Rural America

While everyone uses water, Americans use it up, noted Wallace Stegner, the preeminent writer of the West, in his 1992 book of essays Where the Bluebird Sings to the Lemonade Springs.

      That shrewd observation is even more accurate today.

      In fact, even though we’ve dammed every river west of—and including—the Missouri, pumped most underground aquifers to […]

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The Boys of My Summer Arrive Every April

 I was very young—I had just turned eight—to begin a torrid love affair but the St. Louis Cardinals made it easy. It was 1963, Stan Musial’s last year in baseball, and the young team began the season hot and stayed hot through July.

      So hot, in fact, that the starting infield for the National League’s […]

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AltEn: The Mess Gets Even Messier

On March 1, Nebraska’s attorney general threw the book at AltEn, alleging the 24-million-gallon-per year ethanol maker near Mead spent most of the last five years making an environmental mess of its biofuels plant and the surrounding rural community.

      In a 97-page civil complaint, the state detailed 18 “causes of action” against AltEn ranging from […]

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Happy Slow, Quiet, Dull New Year

The week between Christmas and New Year’s Day was wonderfully different than every other week of the year on the southern Illinois dairy farm of my youth.

      Overall, it was the slowest, quietest, and—especially for my hardworking parents—dullest week of the year.

      Most post-Christmas weeks, Mom and Dad napped longer than usual, actually had time to enjoy […]

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