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Letter to a young farmer…

The farm is old and needs a lot of work, you say.

I hope you realize that 50 years from now your son will likely say the very same as he views your own weathered dreams, because farms, like people, never reach perfection. Yet every generation has a vision all its own, but sometimes in the eagerness to improve upon the past there is a danger of tearing down more than is built. At the risk of sounding like a sentimental old fool, I caution you not to be too quick in eliminating the eyesores of yesteryear — the sagging barn, the patched wooden granaries, a rickety henhouse. To you they may be crude emblems of crop failures and poor quotas, but to some of us they represent the joy of a good yield, the warning crack of a wooden granary about to burst, the props and braces hammered on amid the haste of bringing in a bumper crop. To you they are a poor excuse for carpentry, but to the men who farmed these acres before you they symbolize success — at last! In the never-ending battle to fill the breadbaskets of the world, that old granary was an arsenal of ammunition. When the day finally comes to tear it down, do so with respect to its historic value. In a world that is racked with hunger pains, that granary represents your heritage of plenty.

Farm buildings are strange that way. Time depreciates their value but appreciates their meaning. You say you plan to level that sagging old barn, that diversified farming is not for you. Should the day ever come when you find yourself staring at nothing but broken eggs in the bottom of your solitary basket, however, you may begin to see things from a different perspective. That quaint old barn leaning into the wind may suddenly represent the practical wisdom of bygone days. Bulldoze it to the ground and the gaunt spectre of bankruptcy may rise to meet you from the ruins. Give fair consideration to that for which it stands and you may be the richer for it.

But you think I am exaggerating, that “it doesn’t pay” to raise your own meat, to butcher your own hogs, gather your own eggs, milk a cow or two. That dilapidated old henhouse down by the clump of willows bears mute evidence to the contrary, a visible reminder of the days when egg crates and cream cans were shuttled back and forth between supply and demand in a concerted bid to keep the family farm afloat. Faced by the prospect of a mortgage foreclosure, “it doesn’t pay” was not a favourite phrase of your forefathers and today you have the family farm to prove it.

Even though by comparison the economy may have treated you kindly, there is the present-day danger of being squeezed out by things until there is too little time for family relationships. In striving to build that new house, for instance, I hope you don’t forget the degree of love and co-operation and caring that emanated from the old home place. What started out as a big old rambling house with nine-foot ceilings and drafty floors eventually boasted that rarest of all rural luxuries, indoor plumbing. So maybe the water was hard and sometimes in short supply, but convenience in farming has always carried with it a certain measure of sacrifice.

Even though the new house you plan to build will not have sagging floors nor a dusty old furnace hogging most of the cellar, remember that for those of us whose roots are buried within its walls, the prospect of seeing precious memories torn from the landscape is painfully near, the price tag on progress unbearably high. In deference to our tired dreams, please swing your wrecking bar with care.

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