Love of land runs deep at family farms

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Part I:

“(Life) is composed of many loves. … love of people, love of the farm you have shared with them, love of the season, of the night, of life, of the earth and being able to walk about in it, and think and talk, and be still; a sense of overflowing cup which you cannot really explain; a strong feeling of kinship with the earth, knowing that the earth does not belong to man, but rather he belongs to the earth.” — Rachel Peden, “The Land, The People”

Indiana native newspaper columnist Rachel Peden is gone from us, having died in 1975 at age 74. Though I never had the privilege of meeting her, I feel a kinship to her through her writing.

It defies description, the way in which her writing can reach out, hold my attention, clarify some puzzle with which I’ve been grappling.

It can lift me up when the absurdities of our earthly wasting of natural resources becomes worrisome, as she was forward-thinking in many of her observations. In recent days, I reached for The Land, The People.

Once again, I found clarity in her written words, put down on paper decades ago, still filled with resounding wisdom.

Read Part II: For the settlers, nothing came easy

Read Part III: Treasured farm ripped from family

Read Part IV: Surviving the threat of catastrophe

Read Part V: Enduring one catastrophe after another

A friend in Florida who has moved many times throughout the years cannot understand my connection to this land, arguing with what she finds the senseless need I have to remain, to rebuild the barn we lost to fire, to raise animals and train dogs to herd them, to know and grow the food we eat.

Going back

It is senseless that I mourn the loss of farm land, frittered away in various ways across this country. The land to which I was born was the old Ingmand homestead, built in the Civil War era, and for many years it was a rental house and acreage.

I remember the day my parents went to town to sign the papers, finally purchasing it from Ruth Ingmand Funk and her husband Hugh, a Canton couple who seemed ancient to me.

My parents had earlier purchased the farm next door from the McClures, a couple forced to move to Arizona for health reasons, landing the dairy setup and a small home they were able to rent out.

I recall my father sharing the momentous occasion with us, saying a fellow doesn’t get many opportunities in his lifetime such as this.

He took pride in the fact that he was deemed worthy and that he had earned the equity muscle to make the purchase when Mrs. Funk was finally ready to sell. For the rest of their lives, the Funks came to visit, usually at Easter, and once a year or so we drove to Canton to visit them.

It was a nod of respect lasting a lifetime.

Helping out

Through the 1960s and ‘70s, we all pitched in daily to help grow the family farm. Dad took great pride in never having been given anything, starting with nothing. He paid the going rate for farm land when adjoining acreage became available.

He worked sunup to far past sundown, and when we weren’t in school, we worked too: twice-daily milking, baling, working ground, moving equipment, pitching silage, putting in time at the grain bins, feeding and caring for livestock, cleaning the barns, pulling weeds, picking rocks.

For a long time, the home farm housed a farrow-to-finish hog operation while the McClure place was our dairy farm.

Dad was clear on one thing: No man gets a free ride, and no one should expect it.

Those who do, he often said, so many times end up losing it either through lack of drive, lack of respect or living beyond their means.

A copy of a check, dated 1945, was kept in a safe place proving his own father had paid the old homestead farm in full, an achievement which made clear it was purchased and not gifted.

Dad’s grandparents and their youngest children continued to live there, sharing the big Victorian home, with separate quarters for the younger couple and their children, of whom my dad was the oldest.

Many years later, it was considered a stroke of luck rather than a pre-ordained plan that my father was able to purchase this farm himself, buying his sister and brother out after their father died in 1991, paying them full-market appraised value.

A family gathering was held in which household furnishings were bid upon, as it was important to my father to offer all a fair chance at the dispersal of the few antiques and mementos.

Next week: part two.

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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, and three grandchildren.

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