Dear Readers

Hello Friends,
When I last wrote, I had just been invited to attend a writing workshop on Providence Organic Farm near Central Lake, Michigan. My book Ira’s Farm was to be used as a centering topic in a discussion of writing memoirs or other types of articles centered on Love For The Land. What a wonderful learning event that was. So many talented, dedicated and caring people, which included retired women, one gentleman, working women, an employee at Providence Farm and the co-owner of the farm. At the last session, as we walked into the barn where our meetings were held, we walked into a room full of onions drying on the floor and garlic roots hanging on the rafter boards above our heads. Now THAT was an atmosphere appropriate to the subject at hand! Real motivation.

My previous post “The Hills Are Alive” is an Introduction to the book I have just begun to put together. I’ll tell you more about it as it begins to take a more compact shape. In the meantime, I would love to hear from some of you with comments for what you would like to have in this blog. Stories from you of a friend or relative who is composting or involved in issues that will help protect and heal the land, clean the environment, new recycling opportunities, or any number of interesting items.

Ginny

Ira’s Farm: Growing Up on a Self-Sustaining Farm in the 1930’s and 1940’s

By Virginia Johnson

A WWI veteran with a young family, Ira bought a sixty-acre farm in the rural community of Harlan Michigan just ninety days before the October 1929 stock market crash and its ensuing financial crisis.

He fashioned a living with a team of horses and a never-give-up work ethic on land his wife often called “sand banks” when a harvest failed. This memoir covers a thirty-year span of farming through the eyes of Ira’s daughter who went from a bare-footed carefree girl to a “hired hand” when her older brother joined the Navy in 1942. She drove horses, hauled hay, picked up stones, bagged milkweed pods and a myriad of other tasks. For senior citizens it may bring back childhood memories. Young readers will perhaps experience a tinge of fantasy or a scene from TV’s Walton family. An easy read about rural farm life in the thirties and forties.

You can buy my book, Ira’s Farm: Growing Up on a Self-Sustaining Farm in the 1930’s and 1940’s on Amazon.

SOIL

Will there one day be a time when the food demands of billions of people is greater than the available farmlands to grow crops? In the midst of consumerism, will a concerned world recognize the need to keep our land healthy for food and drink?

How long has it been since you have held a clump of rich black soil in your hand How long since you have felt the soft warm earth squishing between your toes? Or walked barefooted in the sand and felt the freedom it brings? When did we decide that it was unhealthy for kids to play in the dirt and get a little under their fingernails?

The heart of earth – ‘tis a magnet, a tug, a fragrance when a breath of fresh air touches your face… Sense its hunger to heal…its beauty…if it stirs your imagination, let it…
The planet Earth and its constant turning relationship with the sun sustains mankind with water, air and soil. Air to breathe, water to quench thirst for all living things and soil to provide sustenance and dwelling space. One third of the earth’s surface consists of a land mass which accommodates billions of humans and countless species of animal life. Free-flowing saltwater oceans and seas cover the larger area of the planet.

A century of industrial growth brought dramatic changes to the world’s habitation space in the 1900’s. Cities, railways, super highways, airports, agribusinesses, amusement parks, major league sports complexes, factories, pipelines and housing developments covered the lands. Prosperity brought a new style of living to the average households with modern conveniences. Concrete driveways and sidewalks brought a separation from daily contact with the heart of earth – the soil beneath our feet.

Yet, the relentless growth of sprawling cities, ribbons of highways that crisscross nations and concrete-covered lands continues. Will there one day be a time when the food demands of billions of people is greater than the available farmlands to grow crops? In the midst of consumerism, will a concerned world recognize the need to keep our land healthy for food and drink?

Healthy soil is without doubt an invaluable commodity of this global sphere, as necessary to life as the air we breathe and the water we drink. We could not exist without it. And, so, who will ensure protection of these resources so freely available to all?

Those questions are being addressed worldwide by a host of environmentalists, farmers biologists, researchers, conservationists, concerned young people and persons of every age, color and nationality. Advocates of soil care, healthy crops and healthy foods have fostered a promising new wave of action and awareness in agriculture today; an awareness that encompasses tillers of the soil from world leaders to Mom’s backyard flower bed. Those pebbles of sand were once a part of rock formations. They contain minerals present in solid rock; minerals that promote plant growth. Decaying natural waste provides other necessary elements needed for feeding the roots of each plant. Nature’s wonderful (natural) interaction provides and blends each component exactly as designed to produce the whole product. The soil is its own little factory of blended components and performs in its natural function of nurturing each seed embedded within its womb.

Each member of this mass of humanity we call earthlings affects a day, a space, a decision. We affect persons we touch, the care of possessions. We are individually and corporately bound in the throes of life. We create positive or contribute to lesser. We give or take from the universe daily. No one escapes their moment in time. We share a planet.

 

Photo by Gabriel Jimenez on Unsplash

The Process of Producing Food on a Family Farm

A Personal look at Labor-intensive food production – yesterday and today
In reality, my parents spent their entire working years focused entirely on farming in such a way that those sixty acres would provide food and other necessities of life for themselves and their family of two sons and two daughters. No other income in those thirty-one years, just what was grown on the farm, would qualify my mother and dad as creating a ‘sustainable farming operation’ in today’s lingo. Still recovering from the catastrophic nation-wide financial failure in 1929 commonly known as the Great Depression, small farms like my dad’s had few resources. But we had food to eat, a house to live in and clothing on our back because of their land, mortgaged though it was. Growing vegetables, fruit and meat for a family with four children was very labor-intensive in the 1930’s and I want to describe the process of producing food on a family farm in comparison to today’s food markets. Mega-size grocery stores are within minutes of our homes and most of them offer home delivery. Gas stations carry convenience foods, Pizza shops, ice cream drive-throughs. Buffets at restaurants stretch out from wall-to-wall with seemingly hundreds of food items to choose from.
A winter morning in 1936 on the Mack farm in Wexford County, Michigan begins: Even starting a fire in the cookstove means there have been prior days in the woods cutting and hauling wood for heat. Dad puts the coffee pot on to percolate so it will be ready when he comes in for breakfast after milking his herd of six cows. He brings in the milk, fills a pitcher for the day’s use and pours the remainder in the separator for cream to sell and skim milk to feed the hogs. Mom probably has warmed up potatoes which we raised, and bacon or side pork along with eggs fried in the meat grease—meat that was butchered in late fall and eggs that were gathered from the chicken coop. Before we had electricity, the homemade bread we served with the morning meal was just sliced and buttered with home-churned butter, no toast. Some days we had pancakes made from ‘scratch’ and slathered with maple syrup which had been harvested from a nearby woodlot and canned for year-round use. Probably Dad has also brought in a bucket of drinking water (pumped by hand) before sitting down to eat.
Lunch was always a good hearty meal, as well as the supper meal. After the supper meal, back to the barn to milk those six cows and separate the milk, etc. Probably 80-90% of all three daily meals were grown, harvested, and canned over the summer months. In addition, we picked morel mushrooms in the spring, and wild blueberries and blackberries in the summer. Year ‘round day after day food gathering, raising animals for meat, chickens for eggs, large garden for vegetables, a fruit orchard to care for. Cucumbers to pick consumed about six weeks of back-breaking harvest. Pickling dills, with dill from our garden, stored in crocks in the cellar and sweet pickles canned. Apple pies to bake while the fruit was ripe. Potatoes to dig and store in the cellar for the winter. Labor-intensive meals, for sure, but good, healthy foods year-round. Even as little kids, we knew where most of our food came from. Our family was raised with ‘sustainable land management’ and ‘farm-to-table’ meals before the phrases became popular!
My parents sold the farm in 1960, thirty-one years after the first field was plowed. The property was totally debt-free, a little savings in the bank, had made improvements to the house, sent two daughters to business schools, had two sons join military service, had a modern pickup truck. My mother had health problems and died nine years before dad. Dad was still in good health, had a garden with the help of his grandchildren, and walked the rows of that small garden until his death at age 83.

My book, Ira’s Farm: Growing Up on a Self-Sustaining Farm in the 1930’s and 1940’s goes deeper into my history. You can purchase it here. Photo by Stijn te Strake on Unsplash

THAT WEATHERED OL’ STUMP

There was a weathered ol’ stump in my dad’s backyard, once a silver-leaf maple the old folks said. The stump was just right for sittin’ a bit, ‘cept for the tooth marks of a cross-cut saw.

I sat there one day, it was quiet and still – and I felt like that stump had a story to tell. Borne by the breeze from a forest of trees, this maple tree seed had fluttered and fell. Fluttered that day to the soft green hay. Nestled and nourished it had come there to stay where it landed to stay in my dad’s backyard that fine spring day.

I pictured the tree as it grew straight and tall,laden with treasures both large and small. Low branches for swings and bird nests and things. The fullness and shape of a big maple tree resembles a puffball symmetrically. Each branch and leaf seem to know how far its limbs should go so that all who stand in its shade will know that its just the way a maple tree should grow.
When autumn arrives the hills explode with a landscape of leaves reds, and gold. Who can drive by those rich colorful sights without feelings of awe at nature’s delights?

In winter it stands stark and bereft of leaves,but soon enough, as everyone knows, spring comes and brings warmth so the sap starts to flow. And freely it flows for all to partake of a breakfast of pancakes all slathered with sweetness and praise for the big maple trees and their giving ways.

But the years go by and the tree gets old and soon its lumber is sawed up and sold. Its beauty transformed into desks and chairs and all sorts of wares.

And who hasn’t sat by a campfire at night a-crackle with flames throwing warmth and light? I sat on the weathered ol’ stump that day and marveled a bit at all I had glimpsed of nature’s rich gifts. It matters, you know, that we comprehend a little seed blown about in the wind brought birds and shade and painted hills and even stumps to sit on to dream and be still.

Photo by Zuzanna J on Unsplash

The 21st Century

In this 21st century now nearing its first quarter, we are reminded almost daily that the world around us is fraught with change. Drones, robots, rockets and satellites bespeak of almost unimaginable methods of communication, warfare and industry unheard of a century ago. Changes welcomed by some populations and decried by others now appear in the midst of daily living.

It seems perhaps a time to ponder the ramifications of the wide utilization of these man-made instruments of power. Has it brought sustainable progress that will assist our earth in the premise of life, of abundant life, of continuing advancements for the good of mankind even as we learn of problematic concerns over which there appears little ability to control? Can we find solutions to non-disposable waste, to disappearing glaciers, to smog-filled cities of mass populations? Can we comprehend the outcry of this generation as developed and under-developed nations, alike, are affected?

This globalization now seems to be touching and disturbing the status quo in each part of the universe and breaking into the integrity of daily expectations. Each of us as a member of this mass humanity called earthlings affect a space, a place, a day, an hour. We affect persons we touch, the care of our possessions. We are individually and corporately bound in the throes of life. We touch good or contribute to lesser. We give or take from the universe daily. No one escapes their moment in time. We share a planet.

The Hills Are Alive

The hills are alive with the sound of music in northern Michigan. Well, perhaps
not music, literally, but there is reason to sing and rejoice and celebrate. The
natural beauty of rivers and lakes and streams flowing throughout the region now also include fields of lush green row crops grown by organic farmers concerned about the environment. Organic farms are introducing to the area a natural form of raising crops—natural fertilizers, innovative soil preparation, weed control using natural means. This pioneering movement is bringing healing to the land. It produces nutrient-dense vegetables and organic apples and all manners of healthy local foods in addition to soil regeneration.

From the tip of lower Michigan’s mitten where Mackinac Bridge blends into
the north edge of the village of Mackinac City, the greening panorama unfolds
south to Kalkaska and west to Frankfort. Encompassed in this area are the
counties of Antrim, Benzie, Leelanau, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska and Emmet. White
fenceposts often mark the borders of farms where front yard signs proclaim the
information that this is a Certified Organic Farm. Cattle grazing in grass-covered
pastures attest to the practice of raising free-range stock. Chickens thrive in
outdoor moveable pens covered for safety. Kiosks filled with just-picked
vegetables lure passing motorists along country roads. Summer outdoor markets
abound. Truly a lifestyle to sing about – this promise of a reverence for nature
and a vision for the future of northern Michigan.

Come join me now as I walk, in print, through a journey of change
blossoming among the hills of nearby villages such as Leland, Northport,
Interlochen, Traverse City and Petoskey. I write from a vantage point of
observation and interest because as a young girl in the 1930’s, I walked many a
time barefooted through fields of wheat and corn with my dad on his small, rural
farm. I am enthralled at the thought of small farms becoming a way of living in the world of today and especially in the area where I am spending my retirement
years. If you feel the urge to dig around in the dirt after you close the pages of
this book, do it. Let the sweet, rich soil slip through your fingers. Sense the need
to protect it. The greening of the earth lies therein.

A Holiday: Fourth of July Memories

From the “Around the Kitchen Table” Guest Blog Series

Guest blogger: Alvina Valencourt

(Alvina is the cousin I mentioned frequently in Ira’s Farm. Her dad was Uncle Mike who brought the Monopoly game on New Year’s Eve in 1937.)

A Holiday

It’s getting around the 4th of July time of the year, taking me back to a childhood memory of the one time of the year when we did anything together as a family.

Dad was a hard-working farmer, often bragging that “the day wasn’t long enough or the work hard enough” to suit him. Consequently, a day of leisure together as a family was rare. The 4th of July was the exception. So, with his brothers and their families who lived nearby, we would all converge on Green Lake near Interlochen for an all-day picnic.

We would scurry around getting ready which necessitated I go upstairs into the attic to retrieve my bathing suit from a large black trunk that reposed there. The attic was dark (no electricity then) and smelled strongly of mice. But thinking of the treat looming before me, I opened the trunk and retrieved the green knit moth-eaten bathing suit inherited from my cousin and ran downstairs to help Mama with the food,

The family piled into the Ford and our holiday began! Upon arriving at Green Lake, Dad would treat us kids to ice cream cones, a real treat in those hard times. Then into my bathing suit, plunge into the sparkling green lake. It was cold to my skin at first, but soon became pure joy as we splashed about.

At noon we had the picnic lunch and later in the day made ice cream the old-fashioned way – turning a handle on the wooden freezer. So delicious!

And so, back to the farm, never knowing that some eighty years later the memory of that simple pleasure would remain with me.