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US Drought Update

10:27 am in Uncategorized by Crane-Station

The current US Drought Monitor map was published today, and is pictured and linked to the right.

All but four Chicago-area counties in the US state of Illinois are disaster counties. Illinois has 102 counties. In short, Illinois, and I mean the whole of this giant Midwest state, is a government-listed, aid eligible disaster area. Illinois is, in pertinent part a leading US producer of corn, soybeans and swine, with 76,000 farms covering 28 million acres amounting to nearly eighty percent of Illinois total land acreage. The Illinois Department of Agriculture summarizes:

How does agriculture benefit Illinois’ economy?

Marketing of Illinois’ agricultural commodities generates more than $9 billion annually. Corn accounts for nearly 40 percent of that total. Marketing of soybeans contributes about one-third, with the combined marketings of livestock, dairy and poultry generating about 23 percent.

Billions more dollars flow into the state’s economy from ag-related industries, such as farm machinery manufacturing, agricultural real estate, and production and sale of value-added food products. Rural Illinois benefits principally from agricultural production, while agricultural processing and manufacturing strengthen urban economies.

How are Illinois’ agricultural commodities used?

With more than 950 food manufacturing companies, Illinois is well-equipped to turn the state’s crops and livestock into food and industrial products. Food processing is the state’s number-one manufacturing activity, adding almost $13.4 billion annually to the value of Illinois’ raw agricultural commodities.

I include this information about Illinois as one way of understanding the immensity and severity of our current drought situation. This post is just an update, really, because the stories rolling in on a daily basis are each stand-alone amazing stories. There is no way to overstate this issue, and the weather predictions are consistently grim. There are only so many words I can drag from my vocabulary to describe this. I could talk about the strange stuff for a minute: there are no birds out during the days anymore. We have no clear idea how the birds are making it or where they go. Birds are very, I think, intuitive about the environment as a whole. This is bizarre but true. Before the drought hit, I spent a night on the couch downstairs and no, we weren’t arguing because we are, quite frankly, too damn old to argue with each other. Whatever. Anyway, I was on the couch and the birds all woke me with very loud chirping, in the middle of the night. They continued all through the night. Never seen anything like it, so, I called my mother. She said, and she was right, “The birds know. They know something is wrong.”

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A Kernel of Wheat

6:21 pm in Uncategorized by Crane-Station

This is a true account of two farming community events during the Great Depression as told by Letty Owings, age 87

Joe Jones: Men and Wheat (mural study, Seneca, Kansas Post Office), 1939

Joe Jones: Men and Wheat (mural study, Seneca, Kansas Post Office), 1939 By americanartmuseum
Smithsonian American Art Museum, creative commons, flickr

Author’s note: For those of you following the current drought, here are some corn and soybean pictures I snapped yesterday, in Western Tennessee, at the Kentucky border. Thrashing of the wheat, an activity that is one of the subjects of this post, is something I had to ask my mother about. I was not sure when they did this, because we are not seeing much wheat these days.

Drought Stressed Corn Western Tennessee/Kentucky Border

Corn, Drought2012, click to enlarge. Or not. It’s pretty sad.

Drought soybeans

soybeans, Drought2012, click to enlarge.

A Kernel of Wheat
Western Missouri, 1932

Of all farming activities we performed during the Great Depression of the 1930s, two were notable because they involved the whole community: thrashing of the wheat, and butchering the animals. Summer thrashing of the wheat was the most exciting time of the year because it was a social time rolled into sustenance activity.

The thrashing machine, or, in modern spelling, threshing machine (or simply thresher), was a machine first invented by Scottish mechanical engineer Andrew Meikle for use in agriculture. It was invented (c.1784) for the separation of grain from stalks and husks. For thousands of years, grain was separated by hand with flails, and was very laborious and time consuming. Mechanization of this process took much of the drudgery out of farm labour.

Source.
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Days on the Farm in 1934

5:48 am in Uncategorized by Crane-Station

Dust

photo by Robb North on creative commons, flickr

This is a true story from the Great Depression, as told by Letty Owings, age 87. It is a true account of days on a small Western Missouri farm during the drought of the 1930s.

Days on the Farm in 1934

Mom had malaria fever and we had to have her outside. Old Doc Martin, the county doctor, had visited and given my mother quinine. He told us that we had to keep her cool, and that we had to have a block of ice. On the rare occasions that Doc Martin visited, he left with a chicken because we had no money to pay him. Sometimes, he politely declined to take a chicken.

After the doctor left with his chicken, we decided to move outside because we did not have ten cents to buy a block of ice for Mom. The farm houses during the Great Depression had small windows because there was no insulation and no such thing as double-paned windows. Some rooms in the farm houses had no windows at all; there was no breeze in the house. We had no electricity and no fan.

We moved a mattress outside to underneath a tree for Mom. Pop and I moved our comfort and pillows outside as well, and we stayed next to her. We did not have mattresses. There was only the three of us now because my siblings were older and they were gone. That left Mom, Pop and I to tend to the farm. Mom was born in 1889 and was now 45 years old. I was nine. My responsibility now was to care for Mom and for the small animals on the farm. Pop told me not to worry about the big animals, so, during the day, Pop tended to the fields and to the cows and horses, and I tended to Mom and to the chickens, ducks and geese.

On her mattress, Mom would rave and cry and thrash. She was out of her mind and she didn’t know me. She had a roaring fever and there was nowhere to get cool. It did not rain that year until the first snow fell in the fall. Since we did not have ice, I would lower rags in a bucket on a rope into the well to cool them, and then I would wash Mom’s face and hands with the cool rags. We shared the well with the snakes that had gravitated there out of thirst. The well was our refrigerator.

During that summer, also know as a historic Dust Bowl year, we had 53 days that exceeded 100 degrees. Today, every acre is planted, but back then there were not as many roots in the soil to stabilize it; the wind roiled up large clouds of dust. Every living thing on the farm was thirsty, and while my dad was in the fields I dipped well water for the chickens, ducks and geese, and also for Mom. We lived like this, just surviving, hour after hour, day after day. My mom was so sick there were days she didn’t remember.

One day, I thought my mom had died. She was unresponsive to me, and I was so scared. I ran, terrified, to my dad, who was plowing with the mule on the back forty (literally). Pop tied the reins- the mule was a good mule- he wouldn’t go anywhere- Pop tied the reins onto the mule and we both ran back to Mom on her mattress. I was too young to see my mother suffer and die like this under my care. I was so scared because I was responsible for her and if she died I had only myself to blame. Seeing my mother like that haunts and saddens me to this day.

Mom was not dead. She was very hot. We shook her and rolled her and washed her face with cool rags from the well. Eventually she recovered and learned to walk again, but the malaria symptoms recurred in the following years.

During those hot and dry days on the farm, it wasn’t just me and Mom. All of the animals were thirsty and hot- the cows, calves, horses,chickens, ducks and geese- I dipped the well water for them all. My dad was a saint. He never got angry and he never asked for help with the big animals. He told me not to worry, he’d take care of the cows and horses. Pretty much all we had to eat was cornbread, and Pop often made the cornbread out of cornmeal, soured milk and flour in the mornings. At some point, he was able to save enough to get some coal oil burners.

Mom lay on her mattress in her ragged dress and she cried. Pop washed her face and held her hands. His real name was Olando John, and there was never a better man the good Lord ever made.

note: The Dust Bowl years were three consecutive years of drought during the Great Depression. On the description “53 days over 100,” go here to view historic records compared to present day.

Malaria is transmitted by mosquitoes and caused by a protist. More here.

Also, the picture above has the following caption and description:

Dust

The human crisis was documented by photographers, musicians, and authors, many hired by various federal agencies. The Farm Security Administration hired numerous photographers, giving Dorothea Lange her start, in which she made a name for herself while capturing the impact of the storms and families of migrants. The work of independent artists such as folk singer Woody Guthrie and novelist John Steinbeck grew out of the events of the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.