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Thursday, January 11, 2007


[Your editor recently uncovered in a forgotten file this wonderful description of what the disappearing craft of being a farmer is about. I was blessed as a young man to have worked on a farm and with farmers and as I reread this I was reminded where some of my sense of the possible comes from. I was also reminded that when I wrote the "Great American Political Manual," my editor at WW Norton apologetically told me that one of her colleagues had expressed fear that "repair" sounded too much like work. "Oh, that's right," I replied. "You folks in Manhattan don't repair anything; you just call the super."]

KW CARTER, MAINE TIMES 1974 - It will take a third of a lifetime for a man to learn the many and diverse skills necessary to enable him to survive while producing beef, potatoes, milk or what have you. He will, when he has attained competence as a farmer become expert in all of the following fields plus a great many others which I have not mentioned.

He will have a working knowledge of plant and animal nutrition.

He will be an efficient rough carpenter,

He will be a competent lumberman and woodsman.

He will be a veterinarian of sorts. ,

He will have the skills of a mediocre housepainter and electrician.

He will .have a working knowledge of many kinds of machinery and be a more or less skillful mechanic.

He will know how to dig a well, wall up a spring, lay a .waterpipe and do some rough plumbing,

He will ,learn how to predict the weather with greater accuracy than the U.S. [Weather] Bureau or he will be in deep trouble.

He must have some knowledge of accounting or the government will nail him to the cross the first time he makes any money

He must know how to build a barbed wire fence, corduroy a road through the swamp, butcher a hog, salt his sowbelly and raise his beans; how to deliver a cow of her calf, how deep to plant his beet and spinach seed, build a scarecrow to keep the crows out of the com, and shoot the foxes, racoons and squirrels that eat his poultry and raid his garden; he will learn to hang an axe, file a saw, shingle the barn, install lightning rods, repair the mowing machine, cure cannibal- ism among the chickens, and make a brine to cure his ham and bacon. He must learn to handle a dangerous bull or get gored in the process.

He must be capable of conning his banker out of a loan when things are taught, which they certainly will be; and he will learn [guile] when dealing with those who buy his produce or they will skin him alive and nail his hide on his own barn door.

This is perhaps ten percent of the skills he must learn to survive, None of them require any enormous intellectual capacity, but he will be years learning them the hard way.


At January 12, 2007 12:19 AM, Anonymous said...

As an example of the farmer's art, it's possible to predict foul weather just by observing the level of water in the toilet. The static level in the bowl is as reliable indication of barometric pressure as any barometer. The variation of water level to the resultant iron stained ring from the mean pressure point reveals conditions of high or low atmospheric pressure. Very reliable. The more water, the lower the pressure. At the approach of tornados the water can almost reach the rim of the bowl. That's a good time to round up the critters and hunker down.

At January 15, 2007 6:33 PM, Anonymous said...

Knowing how to apply for federal loans and subsidies to cover every contingency from whether you've had a crop loss to a crop superabundance helps a lot, too.


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