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July 31, 2014
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editorial

A farm tale


Recently at The River Reporter we came across this blog entry from www.rurallifewife.com, and it got us thinking about the nature of farm life.

“The kids and I got up bright and early yesterday morning,” the rural life wife writes, “to take our pig to the butcher. The kids… named her Lula when we got her. After that, they fed and watered her just like they do the roping steers. There was absolutely no attachment or ‘pet-ification’ involved in owning Lula… On the way to the butcher, Makenna made up a song to help Josie understand what was going on.

“Ohhhhh, Lula is a pig. She is going to make some great bacon. We will even have ham for Degnan. I don’t like ham but he does. Mom will make biscuits and gravy with her sausage. Ohhhhh, Lula is going to die so we can eaaaaat!”

This blog posting got us wondering what people who have no connection to farm life would make of this story. Some will find the children’s attitude callous; but real farm life is often deadly serious—a farm animal dies giving birth, a marauding fox wipes out the henhouse, a flooded stream carries away everything you planted in that field of rich bottomland, an early freeze wipes out your entire apple crop for the year. Farming is not easy, but it’s a way of life, practiced by strong, hard-working, self-sufficient, proud people. And without them, where would we be?

Farmers deserve our respect and admiration, and they get too little of it. Why? Because the vast majority of consumers are disconnected from farms and farmers, who are the source of all of our food. Why should they care about what happens to farmers, if they don’t know any or understand something about life on a farm?

Some years ago at the daily afternoon milking demonstration at the Wayne County (PA) Fair a woman from the big city was sitting in the bleachers watching with a frown on her face as a dairy farmer attached a milking machine to a cow’s udders and milked the cow. Finally, when the demonstration was over, she remarked (with some agitation), “That must really hurt the cow; I’m never going to drink milk again.” You may laugh; we did. But what that woman didn’t know—what most people in dairy farm country do know—is that not milking a lactating cow is what is painful for her.

This is the shocking truth: too many Americans have no idea where their food comes from or how hard the farmer works to raise or produce it. (This is surely one reason farmers—at least on small family farms like we have in the Upper Delaware River Valley—are almost never paid a living wage for the work they do or the services they provide, why some family member usually has to work off the farm to help make ends meet.)

A survey by the British Nutrition Foundation of 27,000 children in Great Britain found that 29% of primary school students thought that cheese comes from plants, and 18% thought that fish fingers come from chicken. (The answers from non-farm children in America likely would be little different.)

And on top of this, consider that in a 2011 survey 28% of Americans admitted they can’t cook. No wonder celebrity TV chef Jamie Oliver has started a “Food Revolution” to introduce people to the idea of eating “real food, cooked from scratch.” How have we as a society have lost such basic skills, what does it mean for our future and how can we fix this?

We’d like to suggest a few ideas for how to start: visit a farm, get to know a farmer, learn where your food comes from. Buy fresh local food whenever you can. Buy and eat “real food.” Learn to cook again, but not just 10 or 12 dishes you make and serve to your family over and over again; try something new—a new veggie, a new recipe, or a new cooking technique.

Last week there was an Old Time Country Fair in Grahamsville, NY complete with corn shucking and skillet throwing contests, hand-cranked ice cream making, a pie auction, fly tying and casting demos, quilting and blacksmithing. There will be more opportunities ahead to visit a county fair.

The Wayne County (PA) Fair runs from August 2 through 9, and the Grahamsville (NY) Little World’s Fair and simultaneous Sullivan County Youth Fair (the closest thing Sullivan County has to a county fair) runs from August 15 through 18. Be sure to tour the agricultural exhibits, and while you’re there, be sure to talk to the young people you see tending and showing their farm animals. These are some of our future farmers, and the world is going to need a lot more farmers in the 21st century to feed us all. So the next time you see a farmer, thank a farmer, and encourage more young people to take up this honorable work and lifestyle.

Meantime, enjoy the good old-fashioned fun you find at these fairs. They offer proof that farmers like to have fun, too.