Sunday, 5 April 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?