As I drive along the concession roads with the glory of spring on the land, I’m struck again and again with how well-kept nearly all the farm homesteads are. It’s a far cry from farms when I was growing up.
Practicality is the word that comes to mind when I think back to the 1950s and early 1960s on the farm – particularly in our southern Bruce County neighbourhood with its Scottish roots. The families who ran the farms had grown up during the Depression when just holding on to the farm was a mark of success. Moreover, many of the young farmers of those days had also survived serving in the armed forces during World War II. We hear much these days about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The term didn’t exist back then but I wonder how many young veterans carried dark secrets inside – my own father, for instance, who never spoke about the five years he spent in the army.
Cash and time were short in those days so the niceties of beautifying the homestead took a backseat to the higher priority of getting the crops planted and paying for fuel for the tractor. Those led to plenty of tensions between the sexes on many farms – the sort of squabbles Gisele Ireland used to write about here in The Rural Voice where the female priority of trying to bring a little comfort and beauty to the farm met head on with the male emphasis of just getting on with the work that needed to be done. I remember my mother finally persuading my father and uncle to take a few hours to dig post holes and build a fence made of old wooden wagon wheels, up which (eventually) grew climbing roses.
That was a small victory for beautification, but meanwhile farm equipment tended to be parked wherever it was last used and broken-down cars and equipment tended to accumulate in the old orchard until the scrap man was finally called to haul them away.
Of course we didn’t have the technology to manicure a yard the way we do today, even if we had the money to buy it. I remember the first neighbour to buy a rotary power mower. As a kid whose task it had been to provide the push to propel a push-mower over our rough farm lawn, this machine was a miracle. I started nagging to get one.
When we finally could afford to buy one, it was so much fun to use that the lawn began expanding. Today, with riding mowers, many farm lawns extend not just down the sides of the lane all the way to the road, but often along the ditches for a considerable distance (in some cases the entire width of the farm) to spruce up the look of the place.
So technology has given us the ability to improve the look of farm homes but prosperity allowed us to have the money to buy these tools. Sit in a farm kitchen or farm office and you’d probably get a stiff argument about how hard it is to make ends meet these days, but there’s more cash flow in modern farming than in the 1950s when things were slowly evolving from the pioneer model of self-sufficiency. Some of that extra cash comes from the fact that most women work off the farm these days, compared to 60 years ago, allowing for some of the little extras that would have been thought extravagant back then.
And I wouldn’t discount the influence that the influx of Dutch farmers has had on creating a culture of taking pride in the appearance of farms. The Dutch emphasis on neatness and orderliness set a standard in many farm neighbour-hoods that shamed the descendents of the old, practical Scottish pioneers into living up to.
Whatever the cause, today’s farms are a thing of beauty as well as practicality. All of you men and women (and kids who get assigned the jobs) deserve credit for a countryside to be proud of. ◊