The joy of reading a good book is discovering so many places the author takes you from the moment you open the first page to when you close the book. That has been true for the whole of my life.
As a child I read books that took me to cities and countries I never expected to visit. They seemed so wondrously adventuresome and exciting to consider as compared to the 60-acre farm I was growing up on. The farm was a busy place that somehow felt boring to me then. The predictable ebb and flow of seasons, sowing and harvesting, occurred more or less in usual order. In other words, they were predictable and as a child (and later teen) I longed for all the things I had not explored and had yet to discover.
I appreciated all the tastes and fragrances the farm brought me. Most of them linger in my mind so many years later. The kitchen was forever a place associated with my mother and her cooking, canning, preserving, or freezing. Though we were never rich, our table was blessed with meat and milk grown on our own farm, eggs stolen from our own chicken coop, vegetables, fruits, and berries grown in our own garden and orchard. There was the delicious smell of the smokehouse with hams and slabs of bacon. The fragrance of new hay in the barn and jumping into it somehow helped to offset some of the smells of the manure also emanating from the barn.
By the time I arrived, the farm had been in our family for quite awhile. My paternal grandfather and his brothers had left Pennsylvania’s Lancaster County and collectively bought land adjoining one another that was subsequently divided into farms. They worked the land together and taught their sons and daughters how to do so as well. When my grandfather died when my dad was a little boy of five, it would fall to my dad’s older brother and my uncle to seek help from his uncles to take on the responsibility. A short eight years later the task would fall to my dad when his brother was killed when he fell from the barn roof.
My dad grew up knowing how to love and tend well the land that fell to him. Through hard and lean times, it provided for the family enough to eat when others suffered from rationing and less food than they wished. As times changed, he was forced to change with it. The matched team of horses had to be sold for a tractor and then my dad had to take on a job away from the farm to support the increasing costs of living.
When he asked me as a young wife and mother if I wanted the farm, I never had considered I would take over and handle the long hard hours of keeping up the farm. He knew by then it was becoming too much for him to do and the large barn would need major maintenance if the farm were going to stay in the family. I didn’t give a great deal of thought to the decision at the time. He found a buyer he trusted and sold all but ten acres and built a ranch house that would be easier for him and my mother to manage as senior citizens.
The buyer who had purchased the other 50 acres made improvements on the big farmhouse and leased the fields to neighboring farmers to keep the land well cared for and productive. That blessed my dad. He also leased just a bit over seven of the acres he kept to be farmed as well. He planted a big garden, fruit trees, and berry bushes, grape vines, and more. He had grown up appreciating the value of land and the stewardship of it.
By then the smaller farms were disappearing to land developers or were purchased by farmers wanting to turn farming into big business. I had not wanted the farm years before, but I began to appreciate and miss the life I had been blessed to live when a family knew how to provide for themselves instead of relying on a grocer who trucked food in from hundreds and thousands of miles away.
And so it was that while reading Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry with Michele Morin and a few others, the author took me home again when he described the time in Kentucky when farming as I had known it was beginning to disappear. I understood his words. I could feel the meaning behind each one as he penned these words:
“Most of them kept on farming until they died….And as long as they were farmed they worried about farming and what was to become of it…no matter how hard they worked or how little they earned, farmers had always had at least the assurance that they were doing the necessary work of the world, and that before them others (most likely their own parents and grandparents) had done the same work, which still others (most likely their own children and grandchildren) would do again when they were gone. In this enduring lineage had been a kind of dignity, the dignity of at least knowing that the work you are doing must be done and that it does not begin and end with yourself.”
As I have been reading in Joshua in my daily devotions, I was reminded there also about the value and gift of land and the importance of stewarding the gift it is.
When my parents died some years ago, I discovered the truth: I did want the farm or at least a piece of it.
I sold the ranch home they had built with just over two acres and kept the rest. I called a nearby farmer who kept his fields the way my dad always did and asked him if he would farm the just over seven acres of original farm land that now belonged to me. I ask him for no rent money, but only that he farm the land and in so doing, show care for it. I can’t ever imagine selling it or using it for any other purpose.
I think Jayber would understand that.