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Feeding America Past and Present

July 21, 2014

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo often we hear how farmers should go to the way it used to be. I wonder how many remember what that was? It’s an ideal, and not far from what we are, but it’s far from what people want to buy. So we work harder.


Do people remember the truth or the picture?

By 1950, only 12 percent of the population was still on the farm. Each farmer was now producing enough food to sustain himself and 15 others, but there was still opportunity for improved efficiency through mechanization since horses still outnumbered tractors on the farm until 1954. Most farms had a variety of livestock including dairy, beef, hogs, chickens and sheep as a part of their operation.

The 1950s and 60s marked the beginning of change as many farmers began to specialize in order to increase efficiency and make maximum use of equipment and facilities. Dairy herds grew to 60 and, in some cases, to 100 or more cows. Swine numbers increased from five to 10 sows to as many as 100 or more. Artificial insemination became common place, and with improved genetics came an increase in milk production per cow in dairy herds. The introduction of the Hundred Bushel Corn Club inspired farmers to use not only more fertilizer but also better weed control practices to compete with neighbors. Corn production rapidly increased as a result.

The 1950s was a bit before my time but the late 1960s I remember. I remember grandparents pasture raising in the old stanchion barns 60-80 registered Brown Swiss. Outside the lot were pigs that took care of what the cows didn’t eat, and bad milk, when there was some. Calves were taken away but allowed to nurse out one quarter after the cow was milked. I don’t remember what happened to the bull calves. No chickens that I remember, but there was some beef raised and Boston terrier dogs provided farm income as well as a little horse training and trading.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI remember hogs used to glean fields after harvest, with distinctive fencing that showed where those fields were. I remember tractors getting bigger, machinery getting more powerful, horses getting fewer. I remember the cost of a Harvestore, although I didn’t know what that cost was, meant our beef cattle got more focus than more diversified places. And I remember hog breeders begging for support as consolidation increased. Those barns stand empty now, silent. Many were torn down.

I remember get bigger or get out slogans. I remember the farm crisis and the suicides of those who couldn’t bear losing the family farm. I remember the cautions about credit, and the peace of a paid for place, a full mow of hay and plenty of food and feed stocked up. I remember getting rabbits from someone in town with a small bank barn, with wire and wood hutches. Beautiful Dutch marked rabbits and white ‘meat rabbits’. I remember cautions not not completely specialize – keep some other sources available.

Those memories are mixed in with today’s reports and media headlines. It drives what we do, although some think we’re so easily swayed that an organization or dinner buying dinner or sending a trinket will alter what we do. Of course, those folks don’t know me well. Comparisons to mules have come up. Or pig headed. No book, dinner, check or goodie changes who we are and what we do. I’ve previewed several books, not always favorably! It still doesn’t change us.

You see, when it’s real, solid and you know who you are, the only change is deliberate, not everchanging. It’s a good thing.

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