Life on the Farm

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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‘Why are you giving extreme voices so much attention?’

The last column of the year usually features comments from readers whose views differ from those found here the previous 50 or so weeks. Most point out, often in vivid language, the shortcomings of my ideas, opinions, and—increasingly—the “fake news” I peddle through both.

      At least that’s how it has been for at least 25 […]

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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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A Challenging Year but an Unforgettable Thanksgiving

Rural people often reminisce by years. The general rule for any talk about “good” or “bad” years is that good years rarely merit as much mention as great years and great years usually play second fiddle to bad years.

      The reason that challenging or tough years like 2019 and 2020 leave an impression is not […]

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