Monday, March 22, 2010

All Things Bright and Beautiful

A few nights ago I finished up reading a book to Miss O and started in on All Things Bright and Beautiful by James Herriot. It was just another dusty old tome left over from The Missus' childhood. Some similar books that we have cracked together have been greats like "All The Mowgli Stories" by Rudyard Kipling (Where the Jungle Book came from), others have been duds due to her age and interest, "Treasure Island" was a strike out.

At any rate, tales of a Yorkshire vet in the 1940s have a certain resonance for me. Growing up I worked a couple summers on one of the few remaining homestead farms in the area. The last of a dying breed of farmers who supported their families with forty Holsteins and a few hilly acres. There's something truly timeless about working a farm like that, nestled in the hills. If there's not a jet going over and you happen to be looking where there aren't any power lines it's quite easy to forget when you are.

Sure, some days you're in the cab of a giant diesel tractor, with a kick baler and wagon in tow. Some days, however, you're leading the girls back into a barn that was built before the advent of electricity. Some days you find yourself mending fences with a sledge hammer that may have been used to build that barn. Everything is settled in. It's easy to forget the world at large and be covered over by the smell of sweat, old wood and sweet Timothy hay.

I've also seen the new face of farming. I've not only seen but had a hand in building some of the new factory farms. While the work on a small farm is repetitious and never ending, there's a certain futility that comes from screwing down two acres of aluminum roofing so 800 head of cattle can stay out of the elements. Sure there are lots of advances in technology and method that let fewer people milk more cows and keep the animals happy and healthy, but there's something distasteful about the whole thing.

Only the strong survive, and if we're all to have milk on our tables it takes these huge farms. It's just kind of sad that it's become like any other industry. Computers read ear tags and feed out based on production. Automated barns and milkers mean thousands of cows can live day to day and hardly ever see a human being. Gone are the days when a man and his family knew every animal by name.

I'm glad I got a chance to see a society where the people who put food on our tables lived all around us. Not retired executives who run hobby farms. Leather faced men who lived in their fields and stumped in and out of town with shit up to their belt buckles. Men who ran tight little operations, tidy family farms with nothing but their wits and an old International. Dusty old guys in green Deere and DeKalb hats that consulted with the younger guys about the weather and crops and animals.

I may be idealizing it just a bit but I think you see what I'm getting at. All that is being replaced in the modern world. Internet research and GPS guided tractors, genetic alterations and growth hormones, mega-barns and turn-table milkers, it's just another business. It seems as though all the soul has gone out of it.

Fortunately I can still see a glimmer of hope. The more people become disgusted at what they're eating the more they'll be looking for organic stuff. And at the moment that only comes from small farms. It's just a glimmer mind you, but somewhere out there in the future it could all come full circle again.

Here's hopin'.



Nydia said...

I'm hoping right along with you. It scares me that in the US the average life of a gallon of milk is over a week. What the hell do they put in it? I may miss living in the US but one thing I am really glad about is that the munchkin gets real milk that has not been tampered with, and that expires within two days like God intended it to.

Kailey said...

I second what Nydia said. What isn't a business anymore? Everything has to be bigger, better, and faster all the time non-stop. There is so much we're missing out on. Sometimes I feel like we're a world full of tired robots. Something's gotta give at some point. We can't keep living like this.