Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Hedges


It didn't do it. It wasn't enough. Dad managed his extra cows just fine, but the markets kept centralizing. Prices continued to fall. Soon we were paying for our milk to go clear across the state.
The United States Department of Agriculture  was a big help, vigilantly looking out for the farm equipment and chemical manufacturers in the name of public interest. Our local USDA inspector paid us his routine surprise inspection and found a clean wash basin sitting in the middle of our spotless concrete milk room floor. With a flourish of zeal, the little martinet turned us into a grade B dairy for a month, forcing us to borrow money to operate.
At last, the USDA decreed that stainless steel pipe lines were no longer sanitary enough for the public's milk. We were ordered to replace ours with Pyrex glass pipes if we wanted to continue selling our milk. We sold our cows.
Dad went into debt starting a brood sow operation, just in time for the hog market to begin several years of depressed prices. With Nylon and Rayon, sheep were out of the question. He turned the hay shed into a battery chicken house holding several thousand layers before the egg market followed hogs. "They've got us," he said. "It's nothing but row crops from now on." We could no longer afford a hired hand. We would have to trade our three small tractors for two new big ones. Dad went to Grandpa and Grandma to borrow the money.
I lay on the floor of Grandma's kitchen listening to Dad and Grandpa. Grandpa gave his chair a scooted screech. He cut up a toothpick with his pocket knife and a gathered his brow as the clock in the other room ticked. "Harry," he said. "We ain't loaning you the money for the tractors. You can have it as far as we're concerned, because you're in a position where you need a second start. You won't owe us a thing. But why on earth do you have to tear out the hedges?"
"I don't have the time to go cutting them back every summer, for one thing. And for another, hedges take up farm land. I'd just as soon have the extra corn rows."
"The ground will wash."
"No it won't. I can manage the soil."
"How? By ploughing more in the fall? I just heard you say that you were going to do more of that. You won't hold your soil that way."
"I'll put in terraces if I have to."
"Dad burn it, Harry! There goes the ground you'd save from having the hedges gone. Besides, ploughed terraces wash anyway. If you're fixing to let it wash for a little money now, what's Tom a-going to do when it's his time?"
"That's his problem. Besides, new practices like terraces work or the University of Illinois wouldn't be promoting them." he said, catching by accident my look of astonishment.
Grandpa whisked his pieces of toothpick into his hand and dumped them into his glass. "Know who planted the hedges? It was your granddad and your great-granddad."
"So? I know that."
"Just wondered if you remembered, is all. Well, I can't stop you if you're bound and determined to take the hedge rows out, but you're a-going to do it yourself. I ain't a-helping you."
"Suit yourself," said Dad with an uneasy glance at me.
Grandpa pushed back from the table, found a particular Successful Farming magazine by the door to the dining room and flopped it open to a center-spread illustration. "What does the caption say?"
"It says: 'Farming in the year 2010'" said Dad. "So?"
"Well, look 'ee there at it. See? They've got all the animals in batteries, covered by glass domes and fed by machines. And look 'ee at the crops, going clean to the horizon, cultivated by an unmanned contraption..."
"Well?"
"Well my question is: where are the people? Where are the people in that there picture?"
Tom Phipps