Most folks like a challenge. When you’re attending a meeting, and a challenge is issued by one of the speakers, it’s pretty easy to brush it off and forget about it on the way home. Unless the challenge is something that you care about.
At a meeting last month of area Soil and Water District employees and board members, three different speakers talked about our roles in the process of helping landowners manage their resources, and the challenges that lie ahead for them — and us.
In today’s fast-moving world, it’s easy to get left behind in the technology field, but the one thing that will always work in your favor is good old, face-to-face, look-em-in-the-eye, contact. Telephones, texts, emails, even regular mail, are OK for some things, but if you really want to get a point across, take your ideas to the farm and talk to the guys (or gals) that make the decisions.
Organizing county efforts
Now, the first challenge that I accepted came from Kevin Swope. One of the things that he challenged all district employees to do was dig through the files and learn about the history of their respective county’s efforts to organize. I have, in my years here, read some old news articles about those times, but I’d never spent a lot of time piecing it all together. Until now.
Even though the Soil Conservation Service (as it was known then — now it’s the Natural Resources Conservation Service ) was already working with some farmers, there was a need for a more locally-led effort to change the way that we took care of our soils. Work that began on demonstration farms in 1936 and 1937 gradually spread to private farms with lots of good results.
With these soil conservation practices came “higher crop yields, better quality hay and more of it, improved pastures, and materially increased farm incomes.”
This led to the purchase of better pure bred livestock, and “more trade at the local stores. It was easier to support the churches. Taxes to support the schools were more easily paid.”
This was the mindset of a small group of farmers from the Summerfield area in early 1942, when, during a Farm Bureau Council meeting, thought that these practices should be proposed to all Noble County farmers. Legislation was passed the previous year that allowed “farmers to organize and pool their efforts for the betterment of agriculture.”
The county-wide special election was held July 14 with 95.9 percent of the votes in favor of forming the Noble Soil Conservation District.
Looking back, it’s hard to imagine that all of this took place in such a short time-frame. But it’s even harder to imagine when you consider what else was going on. After surviving the Depression and the Dust Bowl era, parents were sending their sons off to war at an astounding rate.
Almost every industry shifted their efforts in support of our troops. Supplies were rationed, and nearly everything you could think of was recycled and re-used for the war. But these leaders saw the need, and accomplished what they set out to do.
Few records left
I can’t find many records of what happened over the next few years, but soon after the war ended, the new GI Bill offered every returning serviceman a chance to receive formal training in the field of their choice. In most rural communities, that training was some form of Vo-Ag, held at the local high school, with all of these “new” ideas being presented, and in most cases, students developed their own ”farm plan.”
The greatest generation
From there, the “greatest generation” took the ball and ran. Farming became more mechanized, with a new attitude of protecting what we had, and improving what we almost lost, all while raising their own brood of baby boomers.
Looking back at the challenges that our ancestors faced, it makes our lives seem pretty easy in comparison. But some of those challenges still exist. While there have been tremendous strides in crop production, we still struggle to improve production in pastures and hay meadows. Early discussions on alfalfa are very similar to our use of cover crops today — improving the soil with plants doing the work. Too often, we treat our pasture like a step-child, and leave it fend for itself, when we know that it could do better with a little help.
One more thought
I can’t finish this article without one more thought.
I couldn’t help but wonder what role my family played in all of this. What I learned was that my Dad enlisted in the Marine Corps two weeks after the special election — July 28, 1942. He spent nearly a year and a half in combat training before being shipped to the South Pacific, where as part of the Fourth Division he fought the Japanese on Kwajalein; was injured and earned a Purple Heart and the Bronze Star on Saipan in July, 1944; recovered and fought on Iwo Jima in Feb/March of 1945.
After the war, he attended those GI Bill classes, and he signed his first co-operator agreement with the district in May of 1951. I wish I could have asked him questions about this article, but he’ll soon be gone ten years, and very few of the “greatest generation” are left anywhere.
The reason we record history is so we don’t repeat our mistakes. We’ve come a long way in the last 73 years, but there’s still work to do… and challenges to accept.
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