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Sunday, April 5, 2009

In Their Footsteps

by Don A View From The Green Barn

My wife claims I was a farmer's wife in a previous life. I make artisan breads, I can or freeze everything I grow, I preserve four kinds of jams and jellies, I raise up baby chicks . . . and I love every minute of it.

It might be as mystical as a past life, or it may be as simple as following a trail.

My grandpa (Guy) was born in 1898 on a farm in Pennsylvania, USA. He was one of twelve boys. He decided early on that he wanted to build things, so he did. He worked on some pretty cool buildings in his day, from the tank plant in Warren, Michigan, during WW2 to Cobo Hall in downtown Detroit. During the hardest days of the Great Depression, Guy never forgot his family, and never forgot his farming roots. He would take my 8-year-old father with him, drive out to a local pig farm, buy ten feeder pigs, load them into the trunk of his car, and drive all over Michigan dropping the pigs off at his brothers' farms. In exchange for Guy buying the piglets and grain, he would return later in the year and receive part of the harvest: corn for feeding his city flock of chickens, wheat for grinding into bread, and best of all, several hundred pounds of home grown pork. My father has lots of childhood memories of not only helping out with the butchering, but holding half a hog in the back seat of his dad's Buick all the way home.

My father (Lawrence) carried on the traditions of his father, except for the pigs. He also became a builder. He built department stores, shopping centers and factories all over the American Midwest. As he built stores, at home he built gardens. He was a master gardener and preserver. I have years of memories of my dad peeling and chopping, canning and freezing. Everything from tomatoes to green beans. If he picked it, he canned it. He even had a small flock of chickens, which he skillfully butchered himself. He would share his eggs, meat and vegetables with needy folks at church or in the neighborhood. At the age of 80, Lawrence is still tending a garden in northern Michigan, and among other good deeds, he gives ten bushels of apples each fall to a large family, who wouldn't get fruit otherwise.

The trail I follow is well-marked.

Even though I was mostly raised in cities, I have a strong and undeniable urge to grow my food and preserve it for winter months. Even though I am not a builder of structures, I am a builder of a different sort. (I help build kids in my third grade classroom.) My goals for this year on our small farm include: raising at least sixty meat birds (chickens and turkeys), maintaining a flock of thirty-five layers, and growing a large variety of fruits and vegetables on my five acres. But I hope to do more.

One of my nephews has four children and they have a standing order for ten meat birds whenever I get a batch of chicks. I hope to expand that to other family members. I also have over thirty customers for my farm-fresh eggs, (and I can't keep up with them presently). I am planning on raising twelve turkeys this year. I want to keep a cool-looking pair around to give the farm a "farmy" feeling, but will butcher out the rest to give to family members and friends for their Thanksgiving feast. I also want to give a few turkeys and chickens to some local families. We have a local food cupboard that allows folks in the area to come in and receive food and clothing at no charge, and I plan on furnishing it with as much as I can spare.

I am just getting started on the farm and welcome any ideas you all may have on how to not just provide for my family, but also give to people who can use a little sharing in my local area.

What part do you play?


JessTrev said...

I just want to say how lovely this post is! I so often think of the gardening I do as following in my grandmother's footsteps. I live in an urban area so just have a community garden plot, but I support farmers with my purchases (meat, eggs, produce) whenever I can! I love that your family has a tradition of using these skills to reach out to those in need and support the wider community....

Mistress B said...

This post is awesome. What a great trail to be following!

Throwback at Trapper Creek said...

What a great post Don! It sounds like you are doing a great job of outreach already.

By living as you do you are setting an example for many! You have some very lucky students :)

Rabbit Hill Farm said...

Really lovely post.

Pat aka Posh said...

I don't have any suggestions but I throughly enjoyed this post.
You are a very kind and generous person and a wonderful example for others.

Fiona said...

I really enjoyed this! It's incredibly true for you, but also for most of us, that many of the answers to questions raised in a simple life can be found in the past. Our ancestors have set us a wonderful example.

BusyWoman said...

What a great post.

My whole philosophy is 'follow the old paths, they are tried and true'.

In my social experiment (leaving work and trying to live from our backyard) I am following the wisdom of my 101 year old Grandmother.

Many of the things we are attempting were just everyday chores in her day!

So far, it has been quite successful.

Anonymous said...

Wow!this brought back memories for me. I suppose so much of what I try to learn and do is what my farming grandparents did, but would they laugh! I remember Nanas huge strawberry patch, but I just have 5 plants in a tyre pot. Most of my fruit trees are in large pots too! Maybe they would be a little proud seen as I'm stuck in the middle of the city with less than 500sq metres of land and everyone around me only have concrete and paving for gardens? I keep trying and dreaming!
Don, yours sounds inspirational!!

Anonymous said...

Your wife may think that you were a wife in another life, but I say you are a very canny, frugal, guy. My friends all tease me about,"you want to be careful... Aunt Bea will can, freeze, dry anything she gets her hands on"! I take that remark as a compliment. With a large family, and plenty of extended family and friends I, too, give away as much as I can from my fruit trees and gardens after I preserve what I need for the year. It just pains me greatly when I hear of people going without food, when so much food goes to waste everyday. Loved reading your post!
Hugs, Aunt Bea

Anonymous said...

Don, I farm a small community garden plot in the suburbs of CT and I usually have enough extra to donate. I have been giving food and flowers to a church in the city that has a small soup kitchen for the neighborhood. I found them when a request for holiday food was published in the local paper. For the holiday season I watch the paper for the buy one get one free specials at the grocery and manage to stretch my giving dollars that way. We are all in this together!
Loved to hear all your plans for your farm-hope your season is bountiful!

Silver Rookie said...

I wish I had that history to follow...but if my relatives had this knowledge it has long since been lost. It is such a shame. Humans have lost so much important information in our quest for bigger, better and more convenient. I'm just starting out and I feel like I'm in the dark but I'm looking forward to the learning curve (and the help and inspiration that can be found looking here)

Mickle in NZ said...

oh wow - your Granddad was born in 1898?

My maternal Grandfather was born in 1899, in Belfast, Ireland (as it was back then).

When my grandparents became engaged Grandpa Jim bought a section to build their home upon. Apart from a few geraniums for Nana, all the plants and, most especially, the trees planted were those that would also feed them.

Here in the Southern Hemisphere the Plum tree was always in full fruit at Christmas time. I remember staying up with them and 1) Mum picking and eating plums as we headed up the front path to the house
2)Nana and Mum flat out preparing and cooking plums for plum jam and plum jelly.

Thank you for promptimg these happy memories I have.

And me? I'm 44 and while a city dweller I cook fron scratch. Made up the dough for Friday's hot cross buns today. Is now in the freezer ready for defrosting and baking on Friday. My home is small. Is better to store the various bread, bun and cracker doughs raw and then cook as needed as they take up less room that way then freezing after cooking.

I wish you a happy and peaceful Easter Break,

With care, Michelle in New Zealand (and my snoring rescue cat, Zebby)

Anne Marie said...

Sounds like you have all the qualities in a true man :)

Country Girl said...

Hey Don, Nice to learn a little historyt on you. Nice to see you posting here too. We have 40 meat birds now and Maine Man is building a plucker. I have no desire to go back to store bought!

Country Girl said...

Hey Don, Nice to learn a little historyt on you. Nice to see you posting here too. We have 40 meat birds now and Maine Man is building a plucker. I have no desire to go back to store bought!

Joanne said...

You have a great heritage there. Unfortunately, I didn't grown up very near to my grandparents.
I have a small vegie garden and no visitor leaves my home without a punnet of cherry tomatoes, jar of green tomato relish and a cucumber! They are almost finished now but I hope to always have a little more than we need for that reason.