He held close, every day, the layers of his farm - the livestock, each species; the fields at their readiness or usefulness or at the fallow; the ripenings, the remainders, the margins, the routings, the seeds, the pollen races, the droppings, the absorbent chaff, the everything of his, this farm world. Close as it all was to him it required and earned his attention. He could tell you what piece of that field had a shallower top soil, he could tell you the history of the grandmother of that Guernsey heifer and how it might influence the coming partition, he could predict the bloom of different crops and talk of how the bees affected it all passing one to the other, he did speak of this strain of legume seed he had carefully gathered and replanted for a quarter of a century, and he could wax poetic about plowing. He loved to plow, loved the slicing of the earth, the flip, the crumbling curving wave, the evidence it allowed him. He never tired of "working" his soil and having it work for him.
Great Uncle Ephraim farmed his whole life in Minnesota. His time spanned nine plus decades from the post-civil war years forward. He was successful and solid. He believed to his core that he know why he was successful, it was because he was a good farmer who trusted the evidence of his years and fields and cows. When America spawned its golden years of farming, from 1900 to 1920, Ephraim was there to absorb i and apply. Most of his latter years were spent alone with his fields and his Guernseys. Those pre-chemical-warfare years of farming were rich in the profitable theories and practices of a many-layered and multi-tiered agriculture. Crop rotations, rotational grazing, and an applied respect for the finer moments of seasonal bio-rythmns made of his place an ever changing jewel of diversity. His was a complex approach, lacing different aspects together - the livestock were allowed and encouraged to compliment crops, cropping and soil management while the harvest of feeds always took into consideration the other components be they birthing, breeding, weather, or overall timing.
As the family legend goes, Ephraim's grandchildren became more and more concerned for his comfort and safety. The couldn't understand how he at 90 plus years old could safely do the farm work and take care of the domestic duties himself. On day, on a visit, they found him out in the field working while the stove was accidently left on in the house. A family meeting resulted in the decision to move Ephraim, against his will, to a rest home. They had to secure a court order because he was completely against it. He argued, "who will take care of the cows?" They promised him the cows would be taken care of. He still resisted up until the orderlies arrived with the ambulance to forcibly take him away. Two days later, at the rest home, Ephraim's breakfast buddy arrived for a visit and told of how the Guernseys had been hauled to the stockyard and sold for hamburger. The very next day 95 year old Ephriam died of unknown causes.
Epilogue: The family sold the farm and all the tools and divided the money, convinced that they had done the right thing. The new owners of the farm ripped out the fences, bulldozed the house and barns and added the 160 acres to their 1,100 adjoining acres of corn and soybeans.
I count it a privilege to be able to stand with the Uncle Ephraim's of this world to say that what they are doing is good and valuable and important and NEEDED!!
Who would you rather buy your milk from? Uncle Ephraim or some corporate conglomerate that milks 10,000 cows? Where would you rather buy your beef from? A farm down the road that raises a dozen black angus steers every year or from a huge feedlot out west where you know that the animal stood at a feed trough in knee high poop for the last 6 months of it's life? Who would you rather buy your eggs from? A farmer on the north side of your town that has 50 free ranging hens or a corporate farm that puts 50,000 birds in one house, knowing those chickens will never see the light of day or a green blade of grass for its entire life? I rest my case.
I salute the Uncle Ephraim's (and Pappy's) of this world. Keep it up!! We need you more than ever!!
Now go buy a dozen eggs and some vegetables directly from a farm! ! !
Blessings to you my friends!