Over the past half century, life on the farm has changed.
My brother Dick and I were talking the other day about planting corn. He recalled when he was little and went to stay on Grandpa’s farm during planting time, Grandpa would put a board across the two row planter; Dick would sit on the board; Grandpa would drive the team of horses. Well, actually the team of horses did not need much assistance from Grandpa. Dick shared, “My job was to wake Grandpa up when the horses got to the end of the row. He needed to take the reins and turn the horses around.”
I’m not sure if it is just nostalgia, or if farmers really did have a stronger connection to the culture of the land back then. Paul Gruchow, an author who grew up on a farm north of Montevideo, wrote an essay about the culture of agriculture called “Rosewood Township.” He wrote of his connection through the land to the universe on the inside cover of his Big Chief notebook and carried it to school every day: “Paul DeWayne Gruchow, Ed Will’s farm, Section 28, Rosewood Township, Chippewa County, Minnesota, USA, Western Hemisphere, Earth, Milky Way, Universe.”
The farms of the time were a lot smaller than today’s farms. 25 acres of a single crop was big; with many fields being 10 acres or less. Often many acres of the farm were wetlands or pasture. He writes: “There were fence rows then. Fences hemmed in the plows. So every farm was ringed by a greenway, in which prairie grasses and flowers grew, mice nested, and ground squirrels, pocket gophers, and badgers burrowed, supporting populations of predators – foxes, skunks, feral cats, owls, hawks.”
Even though the fence rows are gone, the circle of life continues. The work goes round and round. He writes: “spring plowing, disking, planting, cultivating, the first hay harvest, the small grain harvest, the second cutting of hay, soybeans out, corn out, cornstalks chopped, fall plowing, … until the [spring] rains quit, the puddles dried – time to start the spring plowing.”
The equipment has also changed. Agriculture has become agri-business. The tractors are equipped with computers. A sixteen row planter is not considered “big.” The planters are equipped with technology that controls the seed drop and the application of fertilizer and insecticide. The tractor’s computers “talk” to the planter’s computers. The farmer sits in the cab and monitors the planting on computer screens. The farmer takes the wheel, when the technology stops.
Page 2 of 2 - I cannot seem to shake the irony of the image. Today’s farmer takes the wheel when the technology stops. Grandpa took the reins, when the horses stopped.
Gruchow wrote, “Vocational agriculture was a subject taught in high schools, but in my experience of it, there was a good deal of talk about pig rations and weed-eradication methods and none about farming as a work with a moral or social purpose. A profound change took place when people starting talking about agriculture and started talking about agribusiness – the death of culture in agriculture.”
David made the comment the other day that someday he will be able to sit in his pickup and run the equipment through his smart phone. With a sigh in his voice he shared, “I think I am getting too old for all this [technology].”
With the advances of technology, there has been a migration of people from the farms.
Maybe David is experiencing what Gruchow described at the end of his essay. “It ought to go without saying, but doesn’t, that the people are gone from the farms too. Do we think we can plow a piece of land to its last square inch without also uprooting ourselves? Do we think we are machines too? If there is no one left to witness the way from Section 28, Rosewood Township, into the wide universe – and there scarcely is - does the connection still exist?"