Sunday, November 16, 2008
Lane to the old Betke place
The wheel tracks captured in Linda Welsch’s painting once led to a busy farmstead in Buffalo County, Nebraska. What Linda painted this fall looks a lot more like the land before farmers plowed the plains, maybe a little like the wagon wheel tracks of the Oregon trail near here. (Click to see larger.)
At the height of its farm history, the Betke place featured a sturdy two-story farm house, a big red barn, a fleet of machinery, a large garden, and a thriving generation of German-stock farmers. The Betkes grew corn, milo, wheat and alfalfa. They kept a cow herd, pigs, poultry, and a small beef feedlot. The farmstead had a chicken house, a wash house, a duck house, a feed bin, a granary, a machine shop, a windmill, cattle pens, and a cow shed—all those fixtures of the mixed grain and livestock farm in the twentieth century.
A tornado about twenty years ago took most of buildings. The grinding of time changed the farm’s future. At one time, an Extension agent advised me to drill a well in the middle of this quarter section and irrigate it with a pivot. Another adviser, from the soil conservation agency, told me I should install better terraces.
Those two clumps of trees you see in the painting are about all that remains of my grandparents’ farm. The one on the left flanked the farmstead, the other is a windbreak they planted after the Dust Bowl.
Today, much of the quarter is enrolled in CRP, the rest is native pasture and dryland corn and beans. A young farmer from up the road keeps an eye on the place, plants the crops, and tends the cows.
As I look at how Linda saw the farm in this painting, it settles my heart. I miss the old folks and that bustling farm. But I also see more clearly what underlies our daily lives in agriculture: the land, the sky, and the path home.
About Linda Hotovy Welsch: Linda has been a friend to Successful Farming for years. We have long admired her paintings portraying the people and landscapes of the rural Midwest. She lives on a farm in central Nebraska with Roger Welsch, the acclaimed writer, folklorist, tractor collector and Native American expert. Linda issues an occasional e-mail newsletter, “field notes” to a few friends. I’ve assembled a few of her most recent works, along with some of her informal comments on the paintings, in a Flickr photo gallery, Linda's paintings. You can view a wider selection of her paintings on a Successful Farming Web page, Linda's Art Page.
Posted by John Walter at 8:05 AM
Thursday, November 6, 2008
One of the things I noticed in several cross-country farm tours this year is that the generational transfer of the family farm is really starting to take hold. In a number of cases, you could see that the older farmer in the operation was stepping into the background and letting the younger member take the limelight. This was a little bit the case on the Marolf farm in eastern Iowa, for example. Jerry, the father, seemed plenty content to let Dustin give me a tour of their operation. Obviously, they were both plenty capable and articulate. But young Dustin did the talkin'.
I was at a Kansas farm in June to shoot video for our cable TV show of one of the winners of our All Around the Farm Idea of the Month. Cody Zabel, who had just graduated from high school (as valedictorian), was the winning inventor, and his mom and dad had just left the whole business for him to deal with. Earlier that day, he'd been putting up hay. When we arrived at the farm, he was tearing into a truck motor. Clearly, Cody was already stepping into some big shoes on this top-notch operation.
If you look at the new Farmers for the Future social network, you get a feel for the new faces that are emerging out on the land. They give off a kaleidoscope of impressions. The photography section shows scenes of farm work, favorite farm machinery, favored farm animals, young children, goofy scenes of guys doing guy things, and beautiful farmscapes. Check out the slideshow view, and I think you'll see what I mean. The sense I get is one of a strong, young people ready to take the reins of agriculture.
Who can't but welcome these young folks into the world's most important industry? And it's good to see the older folks letting them have at it.
Posted by John Walter at 1:02 PM