Sunday, April 19, 2009

On Being a Gentleman Farmer

When I was being introduced before giving a speech recently, the fellow doing the introduction said this -- "Brent is a gentleman farmer. He lives on 50 acres being reclaimed into prairie and woodlands. That mean he raises grass and trees. Now, as I understand it, grass grows on its own. And trees do, too. So he gets to sit and watch them and read books and think deep thoughts. My thought is -- 'That's the kind of farmer I want to be!'"

Everybody chuckled, of course, including me. It was a witty introduction. But part of it nagged at me a bit and I remembered that part whilst working -- that's right, "working" -- the farm this weekend.

Yes, I do fit the stereotype of the city gentleman farmer -- sort of Eddy Albert's Oliver Wendell Douglas character come to life. I grew up in the city and lived mostly in cities or towns until about 5 years ago. Now I still work weekdays in downtown Indianapolis and take care of the farm chores in the evenings and on weekends. I do own a tractor (modern -- not at all like Douglas's antique on "Green Acres") and various implements that get used on it. A flail mower, log splitter, bucket loader, box scraper, and more. And there are the various other implements -- chain saws of various sizes, chains for pulling logs and stumps, a spray tank, a pickup truck, and on and on.

And they all get used -- which is what made me think of that introduction. Yes, the 6,000 trees that have been planted over the last 3 years will grow on their own -- so long as Nancy and I keep them free of weed entanglement and damage from deers who like to munch on tender young shoots or rub the bark of young trees. That means weeding, mowing, and tying strips of dryer fabric softener sheets on each one (the deer hate the scent as much as I do). Let me tell you, that's a lot of cutting and tying.

It also means controlling invasive species -- like bush honeysuckles which takes over a woods and chokes out all new growth and the understory (wildflowers, etc). Hence the chain, chainsaws, and -- gasp -- bush killer herbicide.

The prairie has to be burned to kill off the woody growth and destroy weeds. Some, though, don't seem to mind the fire. So the bazillion thistle rosettes (that's a baby thistle, I've learned) that sprouted after the fire, have to be dealt with. So I've had to learn about herbicides and the effects and choose the most environmentally friendly ones I could find. Thistle is an invasive species in this part of civilized county, so if I don't control it, the county will -- and probably in a way that is less safe than what I use.

All this is to say, that this weekend has been a reflection (driving around spraying weeds or mowing with the tractor gives one a lot of time to think while doing) about the wonders humankind has wrought. One hundred and fifty years ago this land was prairie and woods. Then it became farmland and it's taking a powerful amount of work to restore it to the pristine way it was when God had charge of it. There was no bush honeysuckle here -- humans brought it in because it was pretty. There was no creek erosion on the scale we have now (the West Branch of the White Like Creek that goes though our land has washed out 1/2 acre at minimum of trees and carved itself a new creek bed) because there were no subdivisions with all their rainwater runoff.

I've appreciated, as Earth Day approaches, how many of us are more conscious of ecological stewardship than in the past. But know how much still has to be done. And how much work it is.

Gentleman farmer? Bah. I may not raise money making (or losing) crops -- but I'm working the land God gave us in hopes of being a good steward. And in hopes of spotting a few more wood ducks, deer, bunnies, and even the occasional coyote.

Excuse me now. I've got to pull on my boots and fire up the John Deere -- time to pull some more honeysuckle. "Green Acres is the place to be..."

-- Brent


Nate Swift said...

So, basically, what you are saying is that you may be a farmer but you're no gentleman? I dunno, Brent. Between that and "bad Quaker" you may be taking "confess your faults one to another" a bit far.

Brent Bill said...

Well, Nate, actually I have been accused of being a gentleman, so I'll accept that appellation. But, whilst farming, I tend to dress more like Fred Ziffel than Oliver Wendell Douglas. ;-)