When I was growing up in rural Indiana, there were 10 farms on our 1-mile stretch of road. In that area, it was flat, and roads were in 1-mile grids. Turn right four times and you were back where you started. Everyone on our road was a farmer. The farms were small, but adequate to provide for a small family. Our farm was 160 acres, comprised of several small, fenced fields, and the necessary woodlot (for fuel and fence posts, mainly, but we also picked wild berries there.) There was a small orchard, which often pastured the spring lambs. Every farmer had some livestock. There were always chickens and often rabbits. We also had dairy cattle and sheep, which required two pastures and one large field of hay. Some farmers had pigs, but my father was not fond of them, so we traded lamb for pork with another neighbor. Our “cash crops” were corn, wheat and oats. My father was the third generation of our family to care for this land, and the first to have a tractor, because he never really liked horses. When I was still in grade school, we quit growing oats, because the demand was so low as people traded in horses for automobiles. We added soybeans, which was a “new” cash crop after the war, when demand for oils and plastics was soaring. We eventually dropped dairy cattle in exchange for beef cattle, which took less work because we expanded until we had 10,000 chickens, which was unheard of at that time. The neighboring farmers often worked together, sharing equipment, tools, and labor. Most of them had part-time jobs (driving school bus, electrician, carpenter, store clerk) to bring in additional cash in hopes of buying more land and to update out-dated farmhouses. (I remember distinctly when we got indoor plumbing, freezers, replaced the windmill with an electric pump, and a clothes dryer.)
Every farmwife on our road had a garden, the typical American vegetable garden that was planted in a marathon session in May with long rows of standard crops in quantities large enough to preserve. Our garden was the size of many city lots today. (You can see it in the above photo on the bottom right corner, probably in early autumn.) Along the back was a row of rhubarb and a huge 4′ wide bed of strawberries. Across the front next to the road, was always a token row of zinnias (which were usually gray from the gravel road rather than colorful.) Between the strawberries and the zinnias were many rows each of potatoes, peas, tomatoes, and even more of beans. Single rows of lettuce,beets, carrots, salsify, kohlrabi, peppers, and sweet potaoes were rotated. Double or triple rows of lima beans, onions, and cabbages filled nearly half the space. The sweet corn, melons, and pumpkins were grown in a “patch” (really a small field) that moved about the farm. There wasn’t much succession cropping other than replacing the peas after their harvest with more beans and late cabbage. I remember picking marble-sized green tomatoes (these were standard size, not cherry types) for the “Last of the Garden” mixture that was pickled. The last of other crops were mixed together as vegetable soup. Before killing frost, every last bit of the garden and orchard was preserved.
By autumn, the sturdy wooden shelves in the basement were filled with jars of pickles, various vegetables, apple sauce, apple butter, tomatoes, sauce, beans, peaches, jams, kraut, berries, pickled beets, jellies, and recycled glass “pop” bottles filled with homemade ketchup. Deep wooden bins lined one basement wall holding bushels and bushels of potatoes, apples, onions and sweet potatoes. The two big freezers held corn, peas, lima beans, mincemeat, cherries, strawberries, rhubarb, chicken, meats and more.
Today, on that same stretch of road, there are fourteen houses. There are NO farmers. There are no fenced fields. In fact, what was once an entire farm is now usually a single field. There is NO livestock. There are hardly any trees left, let alone woodlots. One can almost see the horizon in any direction. There are no orchards or hen houses. The only garden left that produces any food belongs to my 90 yr. old mother, who still grows nearly all her own food and preserves every morsel. There is a new crop of young families in some of the houses, but none of them garden.
This story has been repeated on millions of miles of roads not only in Indiana, and the Midwest, but across all of America. We have turned from being almost self-sufficient to totally dependent. I’m excited about reversing the trend. I’m growing lots of our food this summer and plan to preserve all we don’t eat fresh. What are your plans?