Tag Archives: farming

Gardening

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We have descended into the garden and caught three hundred slugs. How I love the mixture of the beautiful and the squalid in gardening. It makes it so lifelike. ~ Evelyn Underhill, Letters

Growing up on a farm, I suspect, predisposes one either to love or to hate playing in the dirt. I am a lover of dirt. Playing in the dirt was a childhood regularity, and I’m grateful for parents who encouraged and supported getting mud-luscious. My mother, although not fond of them, never squealed when I brought home the stray garter snake or crawdaddy. My father, the farmer, probably had a permanent layer of dirt on him.

But the smell of it, especially newly turned or just after a rainstorm. And the feel of it, moist not wet, crumbly but not dry. Black sand beaches of a different sort.

Every now and again that urge to play in the dirt takes hold and I attempt to garden. In most recent years, that has been confined to pots on a patio, such as my efforts from last year in the picture above. This year, for the first time in probably 15 years, I will be planting a real garden.

No big expanse of land, mind you, but a little square of earth in which I may grow what I please and be pleased with what I grow. My employer offers staff space in their community garden, and I managed to score half a plot to myself. I’m already late to the game, thanks to my fun weekend, and I’m still plotting what to grow and when to plant in our new climate. Last time I gardened was in the Midwest, so learning what will work here in Virginia is a process.

But I’m excited, looking forward to dirt under my nails and the tender talking to leaves and shoots as they punch through the dirt and reach for the blue sky above.

So, how does your garden grow?

[This post is #7 of 26 of the April A-to-Z Challenge. Please click on the button on the right side of the page for more information about the challenge or to locate others participating — there are more than 1600!]

Previous A-to-Z posts:
2012: Good Gravy
2011: Gladly Beyond

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Remembering My Father

Dad at the Continental Divide, ca. 1954

I love my father as the stars – he’s a bright shining example and a happy twinkling in my heart. ~ Terri Guillemets

My father was a farmer, and the primary land my father farmed was located about ten miles south of the house where we lived. Several of our ancestors were buried in the front part of the woods. During the winters when he couldn’t farm, my father worked clearing the timber, setting the tombstones upright again, and cutting wood to feed our fireplace at home. He would come home out of the cold on those winter evenings, to settle in front of that fire with his coffee and a good book.

He hated illness, especially his own, and it was not often he was ill. Mostly that was because he’d never admit to it. My mother would always tease him when he would reach for so much as an aspirin.

“Better call Meredith. He’s taking a Bayer.” Meredith Pritchett ran the local funeral home.

One evening after working in the timber all day, he came in limping, obviously favoring his left foot and trying desperately to hide it from Mom’s eagle eyes. I was setting the table, moving from kitchen to dining room and heard the conversation only in snippets. It began as I took the plates from the cupboard.

“What happened to your foot?”

“Nothing.”

I was out of earshot until I returned for the glasses.

“So you dropped the axe?”

Axe?” I thought, nearly breaking a tumbler. I slowed my actions in hopes of hearing more.

“A little bit, yes.”

“A little bit?”

I knew that tone. It was the same tone she used when she arched her eyebrow and called her children by their full first and middle names. That tone meant trouble. I grabbed the last glass and headed for the dining room, but soon returned for the silverware.

“It’s nothing. A little bruise,” he insisted.

I knew from his defeated tone that surrender was imminent. It was only a matter of time.

When I returned for the napkins, it was over. My father was up against the kitchen counter, staggering to keep his balance as my mother tugged off his steel-toed work boot. His sock was scarlet, dripping abstract patterns onto the blue-flowered linoleum. Turned out he missed his target with the axe and hit his foot instead. The steel of his work boots saved his foot, absorbing the brunt of the hit and dissipating it. Instead of slicing off the front of his foot, the power of the swing reverberated through his shoes hard enough to split his foot open across the sole. It took twenty-five stitches to repair.

My mother tended to describe my father to her friends via clichés, summing him up as the “strong, silent type” and often commenting that “still waters ran deep.” I remember him as being quiet, often sitting still amidst the chaos of his wife and four children. His recliner was the most worn piece of furniture in the house. When my mother had it recovered, she chose green checkerboard leather because the material would stand up well to wear and tear. I hated sitting in it during the summer after that because the pattern would end up welded into the bare skin where my shorts ended. I saved a piece of that material when we left the house, and now it is a part of the cushion on my rocking chair. Some summer days I forget to move the cushion and for a moment I am twelve again, feeling the peeling leather stick to my legs as it imprints the checkerboard into my skin yet another time.

I remember the day one of my childhood neighbors drove my dad home. It was mid-winter, when the sun sets by late afternoon and frosty fog rises to coat the trees by nightfall. This particular evening, my father’s truck pulled into the lane much quicker than normal, and, as it slowed in front of the house, I saw my father slumping against the passenger door, visibly gray under his permanently farmer-tanned skin. Johnny Moore, the neighboring farmer who lived across the way from the timber, was driving. Johnny hopped out and went around to help him out, shouting for me to get my mother, double-quick. Johnny told Mom that my father had knocked on his door and asked Johnny to drive him the ten miles home, as he wasn’t feeling well. We later learned that he had been about one hundred yards into the timber when he felt the first pain. He walked to the edge of the timber, down one side and then up the other side of the ditch at the side of the road, crossed the road and walked up the quarter-mile lane to Johnny’s house, because he didn’t trust himself to drive. It was my father’s first heart attack; I was a freshman in high school.

He was back at work within a couple of weeks after that first heart attack. No real damage had been done physically, but it had dealt a psychic blow to the man who thought himself invincible. He began to work his death casually into conversations, as though testing the waters.

“I don’t think I’ll ever sell this tractor. That will be your job when I’m gone.” His hand lingered on the yellow stripe down the side of his favorite piece of John Deere equipment.

“Make sure to remind your mother that the tax papers are in the bottom drawer of the cupboard. She never remembers where they are, and she’ll need them.”

During my senior year of high school, he surprised us all one late autumn day by announcing that he was going to quit farming. He’d done his time, he said, and he was tired. Early on a December morning, a month after his last crop was harvested and stored away, he got up to use the bathroom and get some water, then returned to bed. My mother couldn’t get back to sleep, so she put the coffee on and finished writing the Christmas cards. When she was done, surprised that my father had not yet re-appeared, she went to wake him, but he was gone; he passed away in his sleep. I came downstairs that morning to go to school only to find my world had forever changed.

That day was December 14, 1982, 29 years ago today.

Hanging around with my Dad

The family found instructions on how to handle the farm sale on his desk, and my mother’s traditional Christmas present –a bottle of her favorite Estée Lauder perfume and a box of Fannie May chocolates—already wrapped and under the tree. Mom chose “Goodnight, Sweetheart” as the closing song for the funeral, as it was the last thing she said to him every night. At the service, the pastor commented that the only thing that would have made my father happier was to have one hand on a John Deere tractor as he went.

He was probably correct.

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Adventures at the Fair

If you ever start feeling like you have the goofiest, craziest, most dysfunctional family in the world, all you have to do is go to a state fair. Because five minutes at the fair, you’ll be going, ‘you know, we’re alright. We are dang near royalty.’
~ Jeff Foxworthy

People-watching at county and state fairs is one of the best reasons to go. What a chance to relax and watch the world go by on the midway!

But this year, I had another reason to head to our local county fair – to enter some of my baking. Last year, two of my colleagues entered the county fair for their county and had great success. One even took best in show for her jam, and it was quite delicious! So there was a campaign to get more colleagues to participate this year. I figured it might be fun, so I decided to enter in the domestic arts/baking division.

The mini-exhibitor pass allowed up to five different items to be entered, so initially I decided to go for it an enter five. However, a distinct lack of canned pumpkin (who knew you couldn’t find it in July??) in the stores thwarted my efforts at making my grandmother’s pumpkin bread. In the end, I entered four categories: yeast bread (my honey-wheat loaf), zucchini bread, favorite bar cookies (my cranberry caramel crisps), and bundt cake (my lemon poppy seed). Although I didn’t take home any blue ribbons, I placed second with my yeast bread and my bar cookies. For a first attempt, I’m happy with that! And I’ve got a whole year to work on more recipes for next time.

I hope you have a chance to go to your local or state fair. If nothing else, go for the people-watching. Here are some pictures of our adventures at various fairs we’ve gone to the past few years. A great way to spend a day!

My second-place Cranberry Crisps
My honey wheat bread
My colleague, Leigh, took first place for her knitted adult sweater! Great job, Leigh!!
Food on the Midway, Greene County fair
One of my favorite parts of the fair – the Deeres!
The Canfield/Mahoning County fair near Youngstown is one of the largest county fairs in the nation!
Tasting the food at the fair is another great reason to visit! My brother-in-law Bob enjoys some corn at the Canfield Fair.
So is the chance to be a little silly! My husband gets his vegetables for the day…..
The butter sculpture at the Ohio State Fair is a “must” on the list of things to see at that fair.
The historical marker at the Ohio State Fairgrounds give a bit of history to fairgoers.
Checking out the various animals and livestock usually results in some interesting moments…….

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The County Fair

August has cooled down for the fair,
For the cinnamon sugar donut air,
And dust and breeze and first gold leaf on the fairgrounds.
~ Kristie Woll

There’s just something about going to a county fair that reminds me of the good things in the world. Perhaps it is the innocence in the giggles and squeals of children flying free across the sky on the once-a-year rides. Maybe it is the smells swirling in the hot sticky air, tinged with the scents of food stands and animal barns.

But for me, going to a county fair is really about the history. The concept of the fair or festival is centuries old and began continents away. Here in the U.S., Knox County, Indiana, claims to be the oldest county fair in the nation, going strong at 202 years this year. From their origins in the early 1800s, agricultural fairs have always been a gathering place. Rural farm life was isolating, and farm families found both education and a chance to socialize. As state and county fairs developed, so did their content, eventually including displays of technology, educational programs, and competitive activities of domestic arts and agricultural prowess. Following the harsh realities of the Civil War, fairs after 1870 became more permanent fixtures, adding elements which are now tradition, including food and games along the midway.

Fair book, 1959 (Courtesy of Special Collections & Archives, Wright State University Libraries)

Writing in 1881, Elaine Goodale‘s description of going to the county fair is that of a “yearly holiday” and a chance for “merry-making:”

Gathering together, as it does, the rural population for miles around, it takes on the added importance of a social occasion, and affords to the many a safe resort for harmless gossip and pleasant chat, to the few a free interchange of ideas and remaking of opinions. But this is only an aside from more substantial gains, the fostering of an honest pride, a generous rivalry, and the schooling of the modern progressive farmer to better methods and larger results. (pgs. 130-131

After recounting the activities of the three days of the fair, Goodale also describes one of the best reasons to go to the fair — to people watch:

But while an intelligent interest may go the rounds, from mammoth pumpkins to floral wonders, from farm wagons and implements to patchwork quilts, from snowy bread and biscuit to indifferent art, — the universal study of character is best worth while. There are types here of every degree of markedness ; the grubbing, hard-featured farmer and the amateurish young dairyman elbow each other in the crowd; the round-eyed, red-cheeked country lass and the loud-mannered, overdressed village girl are jostled together; here is a comely, prosperous matron, and there a gaunt spinster with the worn sharpness, the aggressive ignorance of lone New England women. (pg. 134)

Whether going to learn new things about agriculture, see the largest vegetables produced this year, or to lose yourself among the rides and food booths dotting the midway, going to a county fair is just plain fun.

Here’s the full poem by Kristie Woll, celebrating the spirit of the county fair:

Fair

August has cooled down for the fair,
For the cinnamon sugar donut air,
And dust and breeze and first gold leaf on the fairgrounds.

O holy prairie night.
Tonight the stars are outdone
By the dazzling lights on the edge of town.
The townspeople
Walk the dirt aisles,
Past farm kids selling pulled pork in a white shed,
Past kids sitting with cows and sheep in a white barn.

Spinning in carnival circles,
below us, the townspeople parade,
For their communion of corn dogs and caramel apples
To pay for their indulgences at the ticket booths.

O holy night.
The farmers will be in the fields
(The harvest is yet to come),
Big sweaters will be unpacked
From trunks in the basement,
And Esther will serve her prize-winning pie to the neighbors
When this is all through.

Oh holy prairie night.
The music of the carousel and buzz of the electric lights:
Your benediction for a fading summer.

Kristie Woll
Copyright © 2006 Kristie Woll
Prairie Poetry

What’s your favorite part of going to the fair?

Custer Park Car (photo courtesy of Special Collections & Archives, Wright State University Libraries)

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Monday Moments: Fair Season

My brother and I loved the slide at the Illinois State Fair.

Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you’re a thousand miles from the corn field. ~ Dwight D. Eisenhower

When the calendar turns to August, that can only mean that fair season will soon be here. In fact, my local county fair is going on this week!

As a child, I was fortunate to live in the county that hosted the state fair. With my father a farmer and my mother an artist, the State Fair was a highlight of the year. Dad always took us through the tractor displays and the ag buildings, learning about new crops, farming techniques, and the latest technology in agriculture. Mom would then take us through the mercantile and fine arts buildings, where we could admire the biggest local produce, the finest in local arts and crafts, and the best of farm kitchens around the state. It was a time to celebrate all the great things we loved about living on a farm.

Although he didn’t grow up on a farm, my husband was lucky to live near one of the oldest and largest county fairs in the nation. His memories of going to the county fair make for some amazing stories of fair food, people watching, and precious times spent with family and friends and this once-a-year festivity.

So for those who still love all the special moments of going to the fair, we’ll be spending this week on the blog celebrating fair season.

Here are a couple of Monday Moments to help get your mind on fair season. If you’re feeling a little bit country, check out Chris Ledoux’s “County Fair” video. Or sit back and enjoy this wonderful segment celebrating farming and the arts from Our Ohio, a production of ThinkTV, our local PBS station.

What do you remember about going to the fair?

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