Old skills become relevant again

pickled cucumbers

“In the evening, having gathered up the young pullets that stubbornly will not accept the laying house and nightly return to the brooder house where they spent their chickenhood, we stopped to admire the swamp maple in the springlot. It is an old tree; its top is as big as the farmhouse. In spring it was bright red satin. October now, and it has colored earlier and more richly than the adjacent soft maples. Standing high against the bright blue evening sky, with the western sunlight full upon it, the swamp maple was genuinely spectacular. If there had been nothing else of beauty or goodness on the whole hundred thirty acres, that one tree would have been enough.”

— Rachel Peden, Rural Free, 1961

Life’s trajectory is straight when considered in birth dates and death dates, but in studying the simple history of man, there is much circular about our nature of survival.

One day we will look back on 2020 and realize it was the year that changed us, a year that brought reflection and peace out of chaos, and strength of character from feelings of fragility. We have, in many ways, circled back to the way of life in which many of us were raised.

People are now learning, many for the first time, how to preserve vegetables grown in their own gardens. There was a stretch of time this summer in which canning necessities were impossible to find, proof of this point. Small chicken coops were hard to come by for so many, as the desire to produce eggs in our own backyards grew faster than the supply and demand could balance itself.

One story I never tired of hearing was my father’s tale of butchering day on his childhood farm. Aunts and uncles came to help, and while the hard work was accomplished out near the big barn, his mother finished pies, cakes and side dishes in the house. He was his mother’s willing taste-tester before dashing outside to take part in the butchering process.

“We ate like kings and queens on butchering day,” he often said.

The best of summer’s produce was served with the freshest meat treats. He described things we would not find in the meat section of any store, nor would most want to.

And what my dad’s generation learned for survival, they did not learn in school; then, as now, we all learn from the oldest among us, passing down the things needed to keep a family fed, happy and healthy. If only we ask, and commit to take it all in.

My hubby has said many times over the course of this year that people are learning skills we thought we no longer needed. People have discovered the secure feeling of knowing the origin of their food and having canning shelves and freezer full.

The hard work of gardening and preserving is worth that reassurance. Herbs can be grown easily and many smaller vegetables, as well. A couple of laying hens can produce enough to feed a family with enough left over for bartering with neighbors on other needs.

And along with necessities, we have also learned to find beauty and art in simple things, no ticket required. This year has been eye-opening in many ways, and out of tough challenges can come many strengths.


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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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