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Old Home Farm

Remembering Daddy

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Fall has arrived, and another school year is beginning. I saw the bus go by this morning and it brought back memories of my daddy, Arvil Roberts.

As I've said before, Daddy was born on Old Home Farm in 1920. He went to school at Bruno, which is the first agricultural school in the state, and graduated in 1938. He joined the WPA and helped to build the agri building and shop, not realizing that one day he would actually work there.

Daddy in front of Agri Bldg

Daddy was drafted into the army in 1945 and took part in the D-Day invasion. His division, the 448th AAA BN, landed on Utah Beach and linked up with General Patton's troupes on their march across France and into Belgium and Germany. They wanted Daddy for a sharpshooter, but he declined, so he became an anti-aircraft gunner. Later when they discovered that he was a good mechanic, he became a driver for the officers as well.

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After the war, Daddy came home and settled back into life on the farm. He used his savings to build a barn on the homestead, and got a job driving a milk truck for Carnation. He traveled lots of dirt roads picking up milk cans from the various farms. But Daddy also did more than that. He ran errands for people who couldn't get into town. They would send grocery lists, or bunches of letters and he would go to the post office for them, and bring the groceries and mail when he came back the next day. He also gave lifts into town when needed, and would take them back home if necessary.

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Daddy enjoyed this job very much, but what he really loved was doing mechanic work. So when the job of bus mechanic came open at the school, he applied and got it. Daddy had no formal training as a mechanic. He told me that he when he was 14, he worked the entire summer for a neighbor to earn enough money to buy a Model T. He worked on the family farm until around noon, then after lunch he went to the neighbor's field and worked until dark. It was long hours, but well worth it. He bought that Model T for $12.

Once he had the car, he promptly took it apart to see how it worked, then put it back together. As he grew older, he hung around older men who knew how to work on cars and learned from them. By the time he obtained the job of bus mechanic, he could take a motor apart and put it back together in his sleep.

In addition to being the bus mechanic, he also drove a bus route. At one time or another, Daddy drove every route there was for the Bruno school. And because of his previous job with Carnation, he knew exactly where everyone lived. I spent many hours riding those buses with him, even before I started school. I would sit beside him on the heater, and he would tell me about the people who lived in the houses we stopped at. Daddy came home every day for lunch — the Bruno School is less than a mile from our home — and if it was a nice day, Daddy would let me play in the shop until lunch time.

Daddy in front of bus

Daddy always came home for lunch. Then he would take an hour if he didn't have work waiting for him, and do some farm chores. We had around 30 head of cows that we milked, so Daddy was up at 4:30 every morning to milk, then on the road in the bus by 7 a.m., and back in the barn by 6 that evening. It was a hard life in ways, but Daddy loved it.

Daddy milking

I can close my eyes and still see that old shop, set into the hill under the agri building. It smelled of motor oil and was filled with all manner of tools. I still have most of those tools. There was a big crane on wheels with a sling that Daddy used to pull a motor and move it to the work bench to work on. If I was very good, Daddy would hoist me into the sling and push it around the shop for fun. There was also a large, long, flat board on caster wheels for sliding up under the bus so Daddy could work on the undercarriage. Daddy simply called it a "dolly," but I think its called a "car creeper" now. At any rate, I would play on that if it wasn't in use and either ride it around the shop, or stand on it like a skate board.

Daddy actually taught a lot of boys about mechanics. If the high school boys had all of their homework done, instead of study hall they were allowed to go to the shop and Daddy would teach them about motors and how to take care of a car. A few of them even went on to trade school and became mechanics themselves.

Daddy had the reputation for never failing to run a bus route, no matter what the weather. We didn't have snow days when I was in school. The bus drivers ran as much of their routes as they could, and we had school with however many kids could get there. And the teachers never missed, either. Sometimes, they would actually ride one of the buses if the route ran past their house.

I remember one icy winter day in the bus. We were coming up out of Cape Hollar and Daddy couldn't get up the hill, even with the chains he had on the wheels. So he and the older boys loaded the back of the bus with huge rocks, and then all of us kids sat in the back seats and Daddy began the slow climb up the hill. We never slid at all, but went right up over the top. Then Daddy and the boys unloaded the rocks, everyone went back to their seats, and we continued the route.

When Daddy had trouble with someone, he would make them stay on the bus after everyone unloaded at the school, and have a talk with them. I knew all about Daddy's talks. He never raised his voice or used bad language or verbal abuse, but when he was done, you wished he had just spanked you instead. No one ever had to stay behind more than once, and the offense was never repeated.

And at Christmas time, Daddy always had a special treat for his kids. We would save money all year then go to the wholesale store in Harrison and buy hard Christmas candy, chocolate drops, apples, and oranges. Then the night before school was dismissed for the holiday, we would stay up late filling paper bags with these goodies. At the end of the day as each child got off the bus, Daddy would give him or her a bag for Christmas. And if the child had small brothers or sisters at home, Daddy sent one for each of them as well. Daddy grew up in the depression, and knew how much small acts of kindness could mean to people. He taught me to love my neighbors, be good to my enemies, share whatever I had with those less fortunate, to give 110 percent on the job, and to be honest at all times. And in 1997 when a brain tumor took his life, Daddy taught me how to die. Daddy will always be my hero.

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Music On The Square

 farm signWhat do you do for fun in rural America? In my Daddy's day, they went to the county seat of Yellville for an evening. The young people would park around the square and visit, go to the diner on the corner, or to the drug store for a soda and ice cream. Daddy told me that there used to be a movie theater that was open every Saturday evening, and occasionally there would even be a cart selling snake oil set up on a corner. And most Saturday nights there was a dance in one of the local schools.

In my day, most of these entertainments had dried up. In the 1970s, the movie theater in Harrison (about 30 miles away) was the only entertainment in the offing. If there were no good movies playing, dates with my high school sweetheart and future husband were limited to lots of long walks or going to the mall next to the theater and looking at the record albums for sale. (Record albums? What are those?)

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But today, local entertainment has returned to our county seat. Every Saturday night starting the second Saturday in May and going until Labor Day weekend, Yellville presents a free event. Music on the Square features local musicians who play on a mobile stage parked at one corner of the square and the area in front is left free for a dance floor. The local farmers market sets up around the courthouse lawns and everyone comes for shopping and good music. Kids play games on the courthouse lawn, and dogs go for a stroll as owners listen to the music, shop at the stands, and stop to visit with each other. Occasionally, a few food fenders set up shop, but there are several wonderful restaurants around town as well, with Laura's Mexican Kitchen and Razorback Ribs being two of the best places in the county.

Razorback Ribs

A few weeks ago, I went down for an evening. I saw lots of neighbors and old friends and I met many wonderful and interesting vendors as I wandered around the square. I love farmers markets! The smell of fresh produce lined up in boxes or on tables. All the things you can't quite get to grow yourself, or maybe have never grown at all. You can't beat the taste. And, you never know what interesting new item you will come across.

bandstand

A close neighbor, Jane Reed, was selling a wonderful ointment that she has used for years. I have used it myself and can swear by it. Its called Green Magic and is good for all manner of sprains, bruises, and stings. Her email is lhr@southshore.com.

Jane Reed

Next to her was Back To Roots. Kim Rogers sells handmade lotion bars, lip balm, bath products, and some really lovely jewelry. I have used her lotion bar and highly recommend it. Her website is https://www.etsy.com/shop/backtorootsbykim. She can also be found on Facebook.

Back to Roots

Sew'l Sista was next. Peggy Moody had some lovely quilted things. She takes blankets, tie-dyes them, then quilts on them making a truly unique piece. She can be found on Facebook under Peggy Moody Quilts.

Sewl Sister

And of course, I couldn't pass by the homemade soap stand. Purely Pam's' Goat Milk Soap and Lotions is one of my favorite booths. I adore homemade soaps and Pam makes some of the best. Her email is humblewoods@yahoo.com.

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I also met a local woman who sells heirloom plants and seeds. Springfed Farm has a very impressive array of plants.

Springfed Farm

On the bandstand that night was a bluegrass trio that was quite good. All kinds of music is featured, my favorite being The Melodikats — a group containing Ed King, whom I went to school with. (That's Ed, third from the left, with his wife Vonda — his own high school sweetheart.) They are named after the musical instrument the melodica, which band member Pete Adams plays. They can be found on Facebook or on their website at http://www.melodikats.com/Melodikats.com/Welcome.html, and are well worth coming to hear if you love the music of the 1970s and early 80s.

The Melodikats

Lots of small towns here have a music night during the summer, and there are lots of farmers markets in the area. But Yellville is the only town around here that combines both for a charming festival setting every weekend that is well worth the trip. So, stop by some Saturday and enjoy the fun. You won't regret it!

Honey Harvest

farm signOne of my favorite memories as a child is a quiet, slow summer day with a bright sun and a low mummer of bees among the clover. I've always loved bees. They are really very gentle little creatures, and quite harmless unless provoked. My Granny talked to bees whenever they were around, and I tend to do the same.

My Grandfather Felix had bees here on Old Home Farm. I'm told there were three hives and the honey harvested was some of the best around (according to Granny). She was a firm believer in the "powers" of honey. She once told me that to have a long life you should always honor your parents and eat at least a tablespoon of honey every day. I guess she knew what she was talking about because she lived to be 99.

I've always loved honey myself. When I was small, we could get local honey with the comb in and that was my favorite part. When I left home, I bought processed honey from the store for the first time and had an allergic reaction. I was stunned. Then I learned that some processed honey will contain additives, so I quit buying from the store.

After moving back home and settling on the old homestead, we found ourselves bringing back some of the original things of Grandpa's farm. We had cows for a time, then got sheep and goats, which my Grandfather also had. And then I decided I wanted to bring back the bees. We tried to lure a new swarm the way Grandpa did, but it didn't work for us. Then a friend gave us a hive and we were set.

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We are still learning, but so far so good, and we harvested our first honey a few weeks ago. As I said, I've always loved bees and have never been afraid. But the suit is a different matter. Once I was encased in that suit, I suddenly had trouble breathing, and found my vision obstructed by the vale. And with a swarm of angry bees swirling about your head, matters only get worse. A hive can hold up to 60,000 bees, and when they are upset, it seems like double the amount! So, Greg, who is not bothered by anything in life, waded in and calmly took the honey, gently brushing angry bees back into the hive.

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Once you have removed the honey frames, you have to take them to a secure location or the bees will follow you and try to take it back. Luckily, the wonderful people who bought our land across the road where I was raised are good friends and they said we could use the old milk barn to extract the honey in. Somehow, that only made things more perfect for me, using a building built by my father's own hands.

stock photo of honey extractor

We borrowed a honey extractor from a friend, and spun the frames out into a food grade bucket. ( It was a very sticky job, and I didn't take my camera, so the photo above is a stock photo of the type of extractor we used.) Then we took the bucket home and drained the honey out into glass jars. By the time we were done I had 3 ½ gallons of honey! Quite a nice haul. And Granny was right, it is the best honey around, even if I do say so myself.

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Honey is one of the purest foods known to man. It was a gift to us from the very beginning of time, and there are so many biblical references to it. Honey can be used to treat wounds if nothing else is on hand. It actually contains trace amounts of hydrogen peroxide and methylglyoxal. Not enough to be toxic, but enough to temporarily treat a wound until the proper medical supplies are provided. Honey and lemon are also excellent for coughs and sore throats.

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So, maybe Granny did know what she was talking about. At any rate, I am following her advice and have that tablespoon of honey in my tea every morning, and occasionally on toast as well. Just one of the sweet rewards of living on Old Home Farm.

Where Everyone Knows Your Name

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Remember the '70s sitcom "CHEERS"? Their theme song went Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name, and they're always glad you came. You wanna be where you can see, our troubles are all the same. You wanna be where everybody knows your name” (by Gary Portnoy and Judy Hart Angelo). The setting was a bar in Boston where a certain group of people always met in the evenings and became good friends. Rural America has a variation on this. The song still applies, but the setting is somewhat different. It is the local feed store.

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Going to the feed store is a vital part of farm life. Its not like going shopping for groceries, or to the mall. The feed store is where you connect with your neighbors and people who really know their product and can give advice. We have several feed stores in our area, but the one we rely on is the Marion County Feed Store.

I've been going to this particular feed store most of my life. When I was a child, it was a wonderful, mysterious place. The workers were always there at the loading dock and they would greet Daddy by name. As they stood and visited for a few moments, I would drift into the cool, dim warehouse and wander among the stacks of grain. There was always a cat living in there to keep the mice down, and if I was lucky she would have kittens that I could play with. All the grain was in burlap bags and the smell permeated the entire room. I still love the smell of fresh grain.

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Daddy would go to the office to place his order, and then one of the workers would load a dolly with sacks and take it to the dock where he and anyone not loading another vehicle would begin to toss the sacks into the back of our pickup. Sometimes it would take several trips to finish the load. I would go skipping along with them, watching the loading and unloading. Sometimes if there were only two or three bags left, they would give me a ride on the dolly. Daddy always made sure that there was a space in the middle of the load so I could settle down in it and ride there all the way back home, either reading a book I had brought with me or just lying back and looking at the clouds. Daddy would get arrested for letting me do that today...

While the atmosphere is not quite so relaxed anymore due to safety regulations, the welcoming presence is still very much there. Just the other day we went by to pick up some grain and as my husband got out of the car one of the dock workers called to him, “Hey Greg! How's it going?” A neighbor was already there being loaded and my husband fell into conversation with them.

“How's the sheep?”

“Doing good. Wish I could say the same about the garden.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah, squash bugs everywhere. No matter what I do.”

“Me too! I've tried everything.”

And so the conversation went. Troubles shared, opinions given, advice offered. Troubles all the same. Then we went inside to be again welcomed by name.

“What will it be today?”

“Two sacks of chopped corn, two egg crumble”

“Need birdseed or all grain?”

“Not today. How's your garden?”

“Doing okay, but sure wish it would rain.”

And so it goes. Then back outside where we are quickly loaded. They still bring the small orders out on dollies, but big loads are now brought by forklift. And the sacks are paper not burlap. I know it cuts the cost to the customer, and we use those paper sacks for a variety of things, but I do miss the old ways.

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One of the neatest things about the Marion County Feed Store is that they will mix feeds to your specifications. One lady in the area who has goats gets a special blend of her own making. She has agreed that they can sell her mix to others, so it is common to hear someone order the Maddie Keifer mix.

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Approximately 25 years ago the new office was built next to the dock. I'm not sure what it looked like before then, because as a child I was only concerned with the warehouse and all its contents. The new office has a variety of things to offer, from garden seed to pet supplies to car care supplies to farm tools. Every spring they special order chicks for customers, and there are scheduled "fish days" when a truck with live fish comes by so farmers can stock their ponds.

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This truly is a place where “everyone knows your name” and you can truly feel welcome. And that is the essence of farm life.

 

The Old Dirt Road

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When I was a child, all roads except state highways were dirt roads. It was 10 miles to the county seat and 27 miles to the biggest town, so trips were limited to once a month. The school was only 3 miles from our home, but the bus routes covered many miles of dirt roads, and as my father was the bus mechanic/driver for my school, I learned all of these dirt roads by heart.

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The roads were maintained by huge road graders that moved through our area at least once a month, occasionally more often in foul weather. If I was playing outside, then they became part of my games as I imagined them as mighty dinosaurs or alien spacecrafts moving slowly and methodically up and down the road by our property. My Daddy knew everyone in the county, so the road crews liked to park their graders by our house to protect them from vandals. Once they were parked, the drivers occasionally allowed me to climb up into the cab and sit while they visited with Daddy and drank a glass of iced tea before going home for the day.

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I spent much of my childhood on dirt roads. I rode my bicycle over them, occasionally skidding out on the gravel. I still have scars. My best friend and I spent many hours wandering the tree covered lanes, chatting and picking wild flowers in the ditch lines. It was a kinder, gentler world where a child or teenager could roam without fear of abduction.

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I learned to drive on dirt roads at the age of 12. Daddy started me in the hay field in first gear (we only had stick shifts back then), and after I learned to control the gas peddle and maneuver the gears I graduated to the side roads. By 14 I was confidently driving along all country roads, though always accompanied by my father. Mother disapproved. A lot of the roads had creeks crossing them and instead of a bridge, the county poured what we call a "slab" — a simple concrete patch in the road that allowed the water to flow across. If the water was too high, it could wash the car off the road. Mother was always convinced it would happen to me, but it seldom happened to anyone local.

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Most women back then hated the dirt roads. Every time a car went past, dirt fogged up and if the breeze was blowing in the right direction, your nice clean rooms became instantly covered in dust. Not to mention the lovely ruffled curtains that had to be washed every week. No one had air conditioning so windows were always open. Clotheslines were kept to the back of the house, hopefully out of range.

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There are very few true dirt roads left in our area. Most are covered by gravel and chat, while many more have been paved. A few days ago, I took a ramble down some of the dirt roads of my memory. The neighborhood has changed dramatically since my school days (1968-1979), but the scenery is still amazing and there are many lovely surprises to be found down a dirt road in the country. I will leave you with some of those views and maybe inspire you to take a ramble down the next dirt road you come across.

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Dogwood Hills

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I love living in these Arkansas Ozark Hills. We have many scenic drives and so much to see and do. I have lived here all of my life — 56 years so far — and I am still amazed at the beauty and variety of attractions within a stone's throw of my childhood home. I hope to share many of the wonders of my world with you from time to time.

One such wonder I just discovered is down scenic HWY 14, nestled in a beautiful hollow. Dogwood Hills Guest Farm is open for business and well worth the stay.

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Owned and operated by Ruth, Thomas, and Grace Pepler, this unique place offers a lovely guest house for a variety of package stays, and hands-on experience of everyday farm life. Guests are free (but not required) to join the owners for daily chores, such as milk goats and cows, groom Pollywog (the mini horse), collect fresh eggs from the hens, feed the animals, and even check in on newborn animal babies as they arrive. Animals on the farm include cows, horses, goats, sheep, rabbits, chickens, ducks and, of course, dogs and cats. Hiking among the goats free-ranging in 40 acres of fenced-in wooded trails is also available.

Polliwog

There are even several demonstrations and classes based on availability in season. The certified teaching kitchen opens in the near future to further enhance the experience.

The guests also have the ability to set up additional farms to visit during their stay. Near by is the Ratchford Buffalo Farm, which contains not only buffalo, but llama, emu, and domesticated deer. Additional attractions are the Ozark Folk Center, Hurricane River Cave, canoeing on the Buffalo River, and a variety of Farmer's Markets.

Dogwood Hills flyer

In the fall, they host a Cast Iron Cook-off, where people from all over come to set up camp and cook on an outdoor fire in a variety of cast iron skillets. The local PBS station covered the event last year.

I sat down for a visit with Ruth in the barn loft. It has been turned into a cozy living area next to the teaching kitchen. Ruth told me that they purchased their 75 acres about ten years ago. They are originally from New Jersey, where Ruth operated a catering business. They first wanted to establish a minister's retreat and began to look for somewhere in a lovely out-of-the-way place so their visitors could have total peace and quiet. After purchasing the land and guest house, building their own house, and beginning their farm, the plans changed.

The house

Their daughter Grace (age 16) is home-schooled and very much a working member of the farm. At age 12, she took out her first youth farm loan and purchased two cows. The loan was for four years, but Grace paid it off in just two. As the barn was still in the building stage, the cows were tethered by the road so they could graze, and Ruth simply milked them there. People driving by began to stop to talk to her, and they would sometimes ask if they could "have a go" at milking the cows. Ruth always declined, but it made her think about all of the interest. Slowly the Guest Retreat became a Guest Farm for all of those who would love to experience farm life, but not necessarily live it every day.

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The farm is about 80 percent self-sufficient. They grow most of their own food, and make butter, cheeses, jams, and other goodies, but do not butcher at this time. They have a hydroponic system for growing fodder, which will be expanded later this summer into a larger facility allowing them to produce 300 pounds a week in barley. They currently feed approximately 125 pounds daily. Nearby is a hydroponic farm that will soon be supplying them with 500 heads of lettuce weekly. It is the owner who has taught them the skills they use for producing their fodder, and helps them maintain the system.

Hydroponic system

In addition to the family, there is a couple living on the farm helping with the building and renovation. The Peplers are interested in hiring another person (or couple) to help full-time with the farm chores. They cannot pay a salary at this time, but a room will be provided, as well as all meals. If interested in this opportunity to learn about farm management, skills and homesteading, please contact them using the information below.

Dogwood Hills Farm is very much a part of their community. They promote and encourage all attractions and businesses in their area. They also have a community potluck supper every second and fourth Sunday of the month, which is held in the living area next to the kitchen. This has developed into a real "family" atmosphere, and has led to much social interaction in between times. Ruth says it is a very special bond that most people seem to lack in our society today.

view of the farm

Dogwood Hills Guest Farm is one of the many treasures I am finding in my travels around the area. For 20 years I worked in a factory; now that I am at my leisure, I am rediscovering the land of my birth. And what a pleasure it is! If you are interested in this lovely unique get-away, please contact them. I guarantee you will enjoy it!

Dogwood Hills Guest Farm

544 Cozahome Road

Harriet, Arkansas 72639

Tel: 870-448-4870

Email: thefarmex@gmail.com

Website: https://www.thefarmex.com/

Ruth's blog: https://farmtotableandbackagain.com/

Ruth and Grace Pepler

Hay Season

 

farm signIn the country, we live by seasons. Lambing season, planting season, mushroom season, black berry season, and hay season.

Hay is very important to a farmer with livestock. Good quality hay is a must for getting through the winter. When I was a child, we grew and harvested our own hay for our dairy cows, horses, and donkey. When I was very small, Daddy made actual haystacks and covered them with tarps. He would drive the tractor — an old Alice Chalmers — while Mom rode the mower. After the hay dried, Mom rode the hay rake and then she drove the tractor while Daddy loaded the hay onto a wagon with a pitchfork. They would haul the hay to the barn and unload it into haystacks for easy access. 

 

Daddy loading trailer with loose hay

As I grew older and we became more financially secure, we bought more modern machinery and started making square bales. Our old hay rake now sits in the pasture by the yard. I can't bare to part with it; it brings back so many wonderful memories.

hay season

School was always out by the time hay season rolled round. This was a necessity as high school boys were hired to help haul and stack hay in the barn. Every year, Daddy would hire three or four local boys to help with the haying. As he was the school bus mechanic and one of the drivers, he knew all of the boys and always had in mind whom he wanted to hire. When I was 12, Daddy taught me to drive the farm truck and I got the job of slowly easing the truck down the rows of bales while Daddy and the boys loaded the truck bed. Eventually I learned to drive the tractor, and I got to help with the actual haying process, as well as pull a trailer of a few bales out on a snowy day to feed the stock.

hay season

My husband and his family moved down from Colorado when he was in high school and bought a farm near our homestead. They settled into farm life and also bailed and stored their own hay. My father-in-law cut and raked the hay, Grandpa bailed it, and the boys loaded the truck and then transferred it to the barn.

hay season

Hay season was a chance for the local boys to earn some much needed cash, as jobs in our area were scarce. It gave them purpose, and taught them work ethic. It built character. Sadly, this tradition has been lost over the years with the advent of round bales.

hay season

There is nothing like the smell of freshly-mown hay or a barn full of new bales. To this day one of my favorite things is to sit in the barn and just savor the smell. As a child, I would rearrange the bales and make a castle to play in. Cats had kittens in spaces between the bales, and chickens would make nests to lay eggs or hatch their chicks.

hay season

Round bales are great economically, and you don't have to store them in the barn if you use the plastic wrap or tarps. But the camaraderie and chance for the high school boy to earn money is gone. Now instead of looking to the summer to hire out to different farms to work, high school boys must try to find work at the nearest McDonald's or Sonic. And while the round bales unroll beautifully for farmers with hundreds of head of cattle, the small farmer finds a terrific amount of waste trying to feed round bales, even in the feeders designed for them.

Thankfully, in this area we can still buy square bales from some neighbors, or the local feed store. We no longer cut and bale our own hay. With just a small flock of sheep it isn't practical and the hay field of my youth has become pasture. But my husband and I will always cherish the memories of hay season on the farm. It was a special time to work together as a family to accomplish something valuable.