Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Farms Fading

The town I live in used to be dotted with small, family farms. When I moved here almost thirty years ago, you could drive down Main Street and see herds of cows grazing in fields of timothy grass, red clover and Queen Anne's lace. It was a place of simple, pastoral beauty. There were several horse farms with riding rings and paddock buildings. Most of them are gone now. Some sit with "For Sale" signs swinging on posts in the yards, some are empty and all boarded up.

There was a dairy farm, with trucks that delivered fresh milk on dawn doorsteps, and a bustling little store. When my children were small, I would take them there on fall afternoons. We walked past pumpkins and cornstalks into the big barn where the cows were milked, and we spent some time petting their velvety noses. The milking machines clicked and whirred while the cows chewed their cud. The air was full of the sweet smell of hay, the sharp smell of manure and a hint of sour milk. The lowing of the big animals and the tinkling of their collar bells filled our ears.

My children and I would walk the length of the barn, trying to choose our favorite cow. The black and white one was the biggest. The brown one looked like she was wearing eyeliner. The black one was the kindest. If we were in luck, some of the cows had little calves beside them; the babies were the ones we loved most of all.

After our visit to the barn, we'd go over to the dairy store and buy a quart of chocolate milk to take home. It was a special thing, but I took it for granted. I guess I thought the dairy would always be there, but it's gone now.

The barns and tractors are still there, but the cows no longer stop traffic every evening as they cross the street on their way back from the fields. The store is permanently closed down and the milk trucks sit rusting in the yard and the driveway.

Just down the street and around the corner, on the route that Rigby and I regularly walk is an old house with a big, fenced-in yard. Years ago, it was a little farm. A nice old woman lived there, and she had a pony named Strawberry and a little brown donkey that was Strawberry's best pal. The two beasts shared a corral together, and my kids would poke carrots and apples through the fence for them on summer afternoons. Chickens and ducks wandered about, clucking and quacking, nibbling at the grass.

When the old woman died, some of her relatives moved into the house and the pony and the donkey soon disappeared. Only a few goats and chickens remain there now, and a pair of brown and white ducks that look like bowling pins. The ducks always manage to get out of their enclosure and they hurry down toward the road, side by side, looking almost as if they are attached at their shoulders, to have a look at Rigby and me when we come by.

The once brightly colored garden gnome on the doorstep is weathered and fading to gray, like the paint on the moldy clapboards of the old house.
The little goats stand on top of their wooden houses, calling out to be fed or for companionship. Their bleating echoes like the distant sound of children's voices.

There are a few farms left in town. One is a pig farm down in a valley near the corner where our town meets the border of three other towns. It is pretty well hidden though, and you never see the animals, but on hot days, if the wind is right you can sure catch a whiff of it as you walk through the parking lot of the supermarket.

Another farm still has a herd of Hereford cattle. Those are the ones in the picture above that I took last Saturday. They were lounging in the field, enjoying the warm day amid the asters and blue chicory flowers as I drove by.

I also took a ride over to the old dairy farm for the photo of the red tractor. I met a man in the field who had obviously been working. As he walked up the hill toward me, I asked if he minded me taking some pictures. "Not at all", came his reply, "Do you want to buy anything?" I told him I wasn't in the market for any farm equipment, just some pictures to go with my farm story. "Take all you want, then." he answered.

I have a great sadness about our loss of the small farms. Families can no longer sustain themselves by working the land, and the land itself is valued more for real estate, rather than for what it can produce.
But it must have been wonderful, to coax food out of God's earth and live in close symbiotic harmony with the animals, the farmers relying on them, as they in turn relied on the farmers. To live by the cycle of the seasons and literally reap the rewards of your own hard work must have been such a good, simple, and satisfying way of life. I'm sorry to realize that it is a way of life that seems to be passing into history; fading into the mists of time.


  1. That's a really sad post, but some lovely photos. It's awful when an area seems to loose its sense of purpose.

  2. It's the same here in the UK, Deedee. Land is being snapped up by developers to build posh houses on. Our family is lucky in that we look out on to a vast hill that used to be the pit heap where the miners mined for coal. When the pit was closed, it was grassed over. I used to sit and watch the cattle graze on it until the land was gifted back to the local people and now there are lots of young trees planted there that will eventually become woodland. At the moment it's a great place for people to walk their dogs and to get fit by walking up the steep hill! :D Funnily enough, I was thinking about this just yesterday and how I loved to see the cows walking back home to the farm, in a line. The cows have been moved to a field further away, so I have to walk up and over the hill to see them. :)

    I love your photos and how you've written this...... the cow that looks like it's wearing black eyeliner and the ducks that look like bowling pins. lol Yes, I can imagine that! :O)

  3. Deedee, what a beautifully written post. I live in a farming community and I'm grateful everyday. You are so right about how fast the family farm is disappearing from our landscapes. It is a sad loss. Your photos arre wonderful. Thank you for sharing your thoughts today.

  4. Like ghost towns..but memories and descriptions beautifully told by you. Sad to say that the land to be used for real estate is useless too..who's buying, who's building?
    Your words put me in a warm field..thank you..

  5. What a sad but sincere and well thought-out post. Thank you.

  6. our little town is not the same as the one in which i was born. there are reminders, a house, the park the old railroad bed but too much is disappearing. i know nothing remains the same and change can be good but the town as a whole is becoming just another bedroom community with little to hold it together. once we lose the open spaces, the working farms, the quiet sidestreets we lose our identity. mind as well just give us a number.......take care deedee, see ya round our town, jack c

  7. Poignant post, Deedee. We're losing our farms and orchards here, too. Very sad to see.


  8. It is sad to see the old farms turn into vanity second home sites.

    I loved your comment on my post about going "silver", your hair style does sound great, but when I wanted to publish it, blogger spun and spun and didn't do it. I couldn't get it back. Thanks for your comment!

  9. It IS sad, isn't it? I used to live in Idaho, we'd been there about 15 years or so... in the beginning it was mostly farmland, now it's mostly subdivisions. So, if it's happening everywhere....where will they grow our food??

  10. That's a sad post. There's an award for you over at my blog.