Farming is hard work, but it can be exciting and picturesque — especially for kids. Family farms are fewer these days, but plenty of grownups still cherish memories of sunny, sweaty summers amid crops and livestock. On a recent visit to my chiropractor in Concord, office manager Joyce Supry shared her recollections and told me, "I loved going to the farm."
Every summer, Joyce's cousins and siblings spent six weeks on her grandmother's farm in Tunbridge, VT, where Uncle Joe used horses to cut tall grass for hay. Then he gave the horses a break and fired up his tractor to rake the cut grass into rows, a process called "tedding." Once the grass dried, usually after a few non-rainy days, it was time to bale it. The tractor pulled the baler and the hay wagon. At age 12, Joyce and cousin Sue were too young to drive the tractor, so they rode the wagon. When the bales were tossed onto it, Joyce and Sue piled them up. As the stack grew taller, it became increasingly unstable.
Riding back to the barn, the two girls were perched on the wobbly bales. On the way out, crossing the brook bridge had been routine, but coming back, the wagon lurched across the sketchy wooden bridge, and the load swayed this way and that, with the girls clinging on. Joyce never fell into the water, but the danger was real, making the experience more exciting than a roller-coaster ride.
Back at the barn, the girls stacked the bales in the hayloft. One evening after unloading the hay, the two girls sat in the loft, looking out an open barn window. The sun was setting when a magnificent buck strolled into view. Both girls sat, overwhelmed by the sight.
On hot days they swam in the brook. They bottle-fed the weaned calves, and twice a day, helped milk their uncle's Jersey cows. When fresh milk was needed in the kitchen, the girls filled a pitcher from the bulk milk tank in the barn.
Warned to stay clear of the Jersey bull, the girls tempted fate and would challenge each other to get near him. When the bull turned his massive head to inspect them, the girls ran off, giggling, safe on the other side of the fence.
The lunch table would be laden with a great spread of delicious food, including meats, vegetables, and of course, pie. As a special treat, Joyce's grandmother poured cream on top of the fresh raspberries that Joyce and Sue had picked. When Joyce asked why there was so much food, her grandmother said, "If you're going to work, you need to eat."
All the food was cooked or baked using the wood cookstove. There was an electric stove in the kitchen, but her grandmother said, "I'd never use that new-fangled thing."
Joyce wondered why her uncle and grandmother put up with a household of children each summer. Later on, she figured it out; they were free labor! But the girls were paid, not with money, but with wonderful experiences and extraordinary memories.
Do you have farm experiences you'd like to share? Please send me an email at email@example.com.
Carole Soule is co-owner of Miles Smith Farm, in Loudon, N.H., where she raises and sells beef, pork, lamb, eggs and other local products.