Mail Call: January/February 2012

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George found this tool in his uncle’s garage, and it has the family stumped. Readers, send us your best guess, and we’ll reward the first correct answer we receive with a GRIT ball cap.
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The children love exploring the farm.
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Checking cash at the pumpkin stand is very exciting for children on the farm.
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Proceeds from corn sales are going toward the preservation of the Starke Round Barn.
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Proceeds from corn sales are going toward the preservation of the Starke Round Barn.

Taste of country life

I have always lived in suburbia, so my interactions with any sort of “farm life” were pretty limited. I think one of my childhood friends had horses, and my grandpa had a big strawberry patch, but that was about it. So, when my husband’s parents announced in 2007 that they were going to move from the outskirts of Detroit to a big stone farmhouse surrounded by fields of corn in Southwest Michigan, complete with a barn and a few acres of land, I didn’t know what to expect. My only impressions of a farm were that they were isolated and smelly, and that I would have to invest in a good pair of boots.

Boy, was I off the mark. Isolated? Not a chance. Smelly? Sometimes, if the wind is just right. Boots? I still haven’t bought myself a pair of boots, even though they might be worth it one of these days for tromping out to the workshop, the pumpkin patch or the chicken coop.

Yep, you heard me correctly. In the last four years, my in-laws have taken their big stone farmhouse, barn and land, and turned everything into a multifaceted operation. They turned a back field into a pumpkin patch where they grow pumpkins, decorative gourds and ornamental corn. As I write this, they’re in the middle of selling their crop out by the road, and my children get the biggest thrill out of “checking the money” to see if anyone has slid money into the box next to the pumpkin stand.

But it’s the chicken coop that has made the biggest impact on my youngsters. My in-laws started with their first batch of chicks in 2009, and the children were absolutely enthralled with watching them grow from fluffy balls of feathers into teenagers with scraggly feathers into full-grown hens with bushy tails. And once they started laying eggs, it was fascinating for the children (and me) to go “check the eggs.” Every visit, we learned new things about chickens. Did you know that different varieties of chickens lay different-colored eggs? Or that the first eggs a chicken lays are teeny-tiny? Or that when chickens molt, their feathers grow back looking first like gigantic pins sticking out of their backsides? And that while they are molting, they stop laying eggs?

My in-laws have since added another coop and an expanded yard for the chickens to hang out in, as well as two more batches of birds, bringing their total number to 40. That means my in-laws are gathering probably around a dozen and a half eggs a day, packaging the blue, green, brown and white eggs into cartons and selling them to neighbors, friends and passersby who see their “Eggs” sign out by the road.

One time while we were visiting, a woman came to buy eggs, but their last two dozen had just been purchased a half-hour earlier. The woman needed just a few to make a cake, so my mother-in-law walked out to the barn to see if the chickens had laid any eggs since the last time she had collected them. She came up with four or five, and the woman snapped them up.

If you have never tasted farm-fresh eggs, you don’t know what you’re missing. The yolks are firm with a sunny yellow color, and a bright flavor to match. It’s hard to describe, but they just taste more “eggy” in a fantastic and delicious way. My daughter now refuses to eat any egg that isn’t farm-fresh, and I don’t blame her; I feel the same way!

I am so thankful for this little slice of farm life that my children are able to experience. I love that they can collect eggs, then come inside and mix the eggs into cake batter. I love that they can watch the pumpkins turn from green to orange, and that they can peel ears of corn. And I love that they can pick tomatoes, zucchini and watermelon out of the garden for us to take home. It’s our life, and it’s getting a little bit greener one farm-fresh egg at a time.

Rachel Hammond
Grand Rapids, Michigan

Thanks for sharing, Rachel. Farm life is an adventure everyone should have the opportunity to experience, and we couldn’t agree more about farm-fresh eggs. – Editors

Beautiful barns

I read with interest your articles Round Barn Revolution and Barn Quilt Bonanza in the January/February 2011 issue of GRIT.

It brings to mind an octagonal barn in our Bridgewater, Virginia, community, owned by George Miller. With a housing development surrounding it, the barn was moved to the Frontier Culture Museum in Staunton, Virginia.

May I suggest you publish an article on barns with hex signs, along with an array of photographs? Since hex signs have always fascinated me, I have some placed on my small, barn-type storage building here in town.

Leon W. Rhodes
Bridgewater, Virginia

Thanks for the suggestion, Leon. Please join our GRIT editorial advisory board to offer more advice! – Editors

Identify that tool

First, I want to say that we enjoy our GRIT magazine so much that we have given it as gifts in the past. In fact, we just today ordered a new subscription for a niece who is moving to a farm in Maryland, and we know she’ll love it.

The reason for this letter is that I discovered a tool in my uncle’s garage on the homeplace farm in Stevensburg, Virginia. The tool has us puzzled, and I’m hoping one of your readers might be able to tell us what it was used for.

I’ve shown it to many farmers in my area, and none of them can identify it. One farm wife thought it might have been a kitchen tool of some sort.

In the photo, the paddle is raised as high as it will go, but it also rests flat. The tool is crudely made from a very old board with a simple metal hinge mechanism.

My grandfather, who was a blacksmith among other things, lived in the farmhouse before my uncle, and because funds were very limited back then, I’m sure the tool is homemade. Any information about this tool would be greatly appreciated.

George Morgart
Bedford, Pennsylvania

Permission needed

I found your article Take Advantage of Nature’s Bounty (January/February 2011) quite interesting. Being a farm girl from way, way back, I’ve seen my share of wild produce.

The last sentence under the “Apples” heading says, “In all cases, be sure to find the property’s current owner and seek permission for the picking.”

Several years ago, I had the honor/responsibility of managing a distressed property for the family of a deceased neighbor. One of the biggest challenges was dealing with neighbors whose attitudes were those of entitlement.

I will never forget the response given by one of the neighborhood teenagers whose argument to me for hauling off scrap metal that we had sorted and piled, and for cutting down trees for firewood was, “It doesn’t belong to anyone.”

My response to him was that every square inch of dirt on the face of the Earth and everything on it does indeed belong to someone, and that, furthermore, he and his friends and family were stealing.

I hope everyone who read your article understands that in ALL cases, someone does care for the “wild” things that are growing on “abandoned” places. There’s someone who cares and who is responsible for the property.

I’m not saying that person is going to refuse to let you pick/forage/harvest, but you need to ask and not assume that it’s free for the taking. They may, in fact, welcome the help.

Thanks for allowing me to express my point of view.

Gloria Durman
Kent, Ohio

Thank you, Gloria, for emphasizing this point. Land access is an often-contentious topic, so it bears repeating. Heck, it would even be wise to share your harvests with the landowner, even after asking permission! – Editors

Preserving the Starke Round Barn

I wanted to let your readers know that we have had a successful harvest of the nutritious, richly flavored open-pollinated Floriani Red Flint corn that you’ve been writing about, and we are now selling it by the pound, for grinding fresh cornmeal and grits/polenta. We harvested the corn by hand, and it was cleaned by Roberts Seed Inc.

All proceeds from the sale of the corn will go toward the preservation of the Starke Round Barn. The National Register Site, located east of Red Cloud, Nebraska, is the largest round barn in the world, measuring a whopping 130 feet in diameter.

For more information on how to order the Floriani corn, visit the Starke Round Barn online.

Liz Rasser
Red Cloud, Nebraska

For more on round barns, including the Starke Round Barn, check out Round Barn Revolution, from our January/February 2011 issue. – Editors

Recipe creation

We grew up and retired from the desert Southwest where sourdough and sheepherder’s bread – a crusty, chewy bread with a bit of a tang – were both common.

Then we moved to Northeast Kansas. One thing you can’t buy in the stores here is our memory of good bread. The bread around here is sweeter than what we’re used to, and it’s beaten soft and fluffy, even the French loaves.

Last year, however, I bought a bread machine and came up with a tangy, textured loaf we thoroughly enjoy. It’s kind of a cross between sheepherder’s and a light sourdough. We grew up when sugar was rationed and honey was used as a substitute. I still use honey for baking.

Here is our recipe, in case you’d like to try it:

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons warm water
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon olive oil
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon salt
3 1/4 cups flour (I use bread flour when I have it, all-purpose flour when I don’t.)
1 tablespoon powdered buttermilk
2 1/4 teaspoons yeast

Place ingredients in bread machine according to your bread machine instructions. Set on French or Italian mode and let the machine bake it. Yields one 1 1/2-pound loaf.

Joe White
Denison, Kansas

Sounds delicious. We can’t wait to try it, Joe! – Editors

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