Conversations with elder farmers
Editied by Beth WaterhouseMonday, June 4, 2001Editor’s Note:
American farming practices have changed dramatically since World War II. Larger farms, animal confinement, genetic modifications—are more the rule than the exception in year 2001. Furthermore, the way that farm life is or is not embedded in the local community has changed. Farmers have dropped to near one percent of the American labor force and it is no longer a given that our youth will continue to farm this land. Meanwhile, the current generation of farmers, if well rooted in their own heritage, is the last generation that remembers farming before WW II, before all these farming changes. We are on the verge of losing their memories-- on the edge of a loss of a very important base of knowledge.
In this context, this project, "Remembering the Art of Farming" has focused on the power of a good story. Through good stories we may remember.
A couple years ago the Collaborative for Watershed Sustainability, a loosely-knit group of individuals working on citizen-level environmental projects in the southeastern Blufflands, decided to try this "remembering" effort. It has been their intent to host some storytelling sessions to save knowledge and stories, like seeds. Memories are alive in Minnesota’s farmland, but who is listening to our elder farmers? Who is recording what they say?
So far, fifteen individuals have come together in three different communities to tell stories. Questions that might have been addressed are broad-ranging-- about cropping practices, farming with horses, animal husbandry, farm and family life, maybe how farmers learned, or how communities worked together. To date, conversations have been recorded in the Lake City area, in Harmony, and in the Wells Creek (Red Wing) area.
The project heard from Ralph Lentz, Dennis Rabe, and Art Thicke meeting around Ralph’s kitchen table and accompanied by Larry Gates and Gary Holthaus. Another session was held on a snowy April afternoon in the Greenfield Lutheran Church in Harmony, listening to Pauline Austin, Opal Schrock and Drucie Milne. Loni Kemp helped host this meeting. The third session was an even blustery December day at the Diercks’ home on Wells Creek, hearing stories from Richard and Elaine Diercks, Gerry and Mary Ann Burfeind and Duane Stemmann, accompanied by Beth Knudsen and Julia Frost.
Beth Waterhouse has been the .....[Read the Rest]