What We Brought to Our Rural Community. And What It Brought Us.

Jan 29, 2018 by

By: Jim Curely

I am told there used to be a small dairy farm of less than 50 cows just down the road from our ‘homestead’. If you talk to any locals over sixty, they remember picking cotton in their youth. Their eyes glaze over with nostalgia when they speak winter hog slaughters at their father’s or grandfather’s farm.

But things are not the same. This small town on Route 1, which stretches from Maine to Florida, was economically devastated when Interstate 95 opened in the 1960’s. The former truck stop is closed. The motel has been boarded up for years. No vacationers from the Northeast venture through our little town anymore. Storefronts are empty. The population has declined from a peak of 640 in 1950 to less than 350 souls today. Our town is barely able to support an elementary school. The Middle and High School closed more than a decade ago with the children being bussed to a regional school.

The family farms have fared no better. The textile industry left for foreign shores, making it harder for small cotton farmers to turn a profit. “Economy of scale” helped kill the family farm. A dwindling local population and government policies of the last 40 years, “encouraged” small dairies to close. Farmland now stands abandoned or sports pine tree stands.

Yet, some farming still goes on. Our neighbor farms a few hundred acres, growing produce for a grocery store and a farmers market both 20 miles away. Soy beans and corn is grown for a large grain supplier.

There are folks here and there who try to straddle rural living, raising a few chickens and maybe an occasional hog, keeping a small garden, while working 30 or more miles down the road.

My 93 year-old neighbor who passed recently lamented the loss. He reminisced that “We never had much cash, but we always had plenty to eat.” He explained that the generations following him for the most part left the farm because they desired cash to buy “things” which jobs in the city could provide. In his day, health insurance was provided by the land. If they needed money, they sold some land. If they had money, they bought land.

However, despite all this “bad news”, a rural community exists.

On our meager two acres, we keep a couple sows, milk a Jersey cow (off and on), raise chickens, and (off and on) raise rabbits, ducks, guineas, and turkeys. We raise and process all of the meat we consume ourselves. We grow most of our own produce, as well as most dairy. A few years ago we leased 6 acres from our neighbor to grow peanuts for hog feed and peanut hay for the cow. We plowed with a horse, then planted, cultivated and harvested by hand.

But we also straddle the fence. I do some consulting work, teach part-time, and make occasional farm income from pigs.

Arriving 14 years ago with no farming experience, carrying merely books to inform us, we jumped right in with our share of both success and humorous follies — and the community has been with us all the way.

One farmer has employed my teenage sons, teaching them how to plant, cultivate, harvest, and how to work. The same farmer allows us to go through his fields at the end of a harvest to gleam unharvested crops for our livestock.

A local contractor drops off his lumber scraps for livestock housing. Others stop by with surplus hay, straw, and even chickens to contribute to our efforts.

We are amazed that this rural community in the deep South has welcomed and energetically assisted this initially hapless family who has come into their midst. Perhaps it is because we have brought back memories as my sons plow the field with their horse; or because we stack the peanut harvest in our front yard in a way not seen in these parts for years; or because we slaughter and butcher our own hogs, or because we hand-milked our Jerseys.

Most of all, I think the determining factor is our children who work so hard but are joyful and enthusiastic about everything old, but new to them.

The rural community here sees the best of the past having a new hope for the future.

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