Life on the Farm

It Takes a Carpenter

      In the early morning fog the other day, I heard a claw hammer’s tap, tap, bam, bam, bam, boom drive a nail into its place for who knows how many years. A moment later, another six, clear, sharp notes cut through the fog and another nail was set for, maybe, a century or more.

      […]

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Before Silage Season, The Hand-Me-Down Season

      Sometime in mid-August, well after fair season and just before corn silage season, my brothers and I endured the hand-me-down season on the southern Illinois dairy farm of our youth.

      It was just as you suspect. One morning some weeks before school began, my mother watched as we tried on our next older brother’s clothes to […]

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“A Lick and a Promise” Aren’t Enough

      Most American farmers spent the last week of May and the first week of June either driving through mud or stuck in it. Their two farming partners, Mother Nature and Uncle Sam, were little help; one brought threats of more rain and mud, the other threats of more tariffs and bailouts.

      Farmers in my […]

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Talkin’ About My Generation

      It’s a truism in American agriculture that food-growing technology undergoes an industry-shaking metamorphosis every generation.

      When Grandpa (both yours and mine) farmed, hybrid seed corn came in and oat-eating horsepower went out. His sons, our fathers, were early adopters of anhydrous ammonia, 2,4-D, and, whoa, combines.

      Twenty-five years later, our generational farm-changing moment arrived with […]

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Time’s Reluctant Elders

      On an April Sunday afternoon a year ago, the last ancestral connection to the southern Illinois dairy farm of my youth was severed when my mother died quietly and peacefully.

      Her passing, quickly followed by her sister’s death, means that this Easter will be the first Easter in the last 64 that I will not be […]

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Unlocking the Rural Economy Requires Different Keys

Of all the places you’d expect to see a fight between the cold, hard face of ag economics and the warm, tender heart of rural America, that place would not be the corner of West 41st St. and Eighth Avenue in New York City, the home of the New York Times.

      And yet there it was in […]

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Shutdown? Not on the dairy farm of my youth.

There was no “shutdown”—not in the U.S. government sense, anyway—on the southern Illinois dairy farm of my youth.

Come to think of it, there was never a showdown, hoedown, lockdown, or shakedown either. There were, however, machinery breakdowns, endless sundowns and, every now and then, a letdown.

But shutdowns? Not one, not even a “partial” one.

In fact, if anyone […]

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Howard’s Priceless Gift of Simple Giving

The Christmas tree was a scrub cedar hacked from the edge of the woods that bordered the farm. Big-bulbed lights, strung in barber pole fashion, generated almost as much heat as the nearby wood stove. Yellowed Christmas cards, saved over the years and perched like doves in the untrimmed branches, served as ornaments.
“I believe this […]

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Brother, Can You Spare a Cup of Water?

Humanity depends on three critical threes: Without oxygen, most humans will die within three minutes; without water, life expectancy is three days; without food, we’ve got three weeks.
Few Americans give three seconds of thought to any of these life-ensuring elements because, here, food is safe and plentiful, air quality laws are in place and enforced, […]

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A Cautionary Note from Sand County

“February” is one of the finest essays in Sand County Almanac, the 1949 book of superlative essays on nature and mankind’s role in it, by forester and conservationist Aldo Leopold. In it, Leopold, the father of wildlife ecology, tells the history of his Wisconsin “sand farm” and its natural “community” as he and a friend […]

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