DOWN THE ROAD A PIECE
By Jane Brown
The Local Reporter
I know this place, every nook of it. How the loamy soil feels in my hand, how the trees lean in the wind, where the mud puddle my pet goose bathed in every morning used to be. The old shop has been replaced by a modern tobacco barn and a greenhouse, but what I see is my mom sitting on the back steps chatting with me about her garden. This farm, this place that has been my anchor all my life — where I was rooted, loved, known.
I was anxious about revisiting my family’s farm in Maryland after ten years away. I was afraid it would be so different I wouldn’t recognize it, that it wouldn’t be the place I still dream about.
I’m glad my father put the land in a Farmland Preservation Trust, so I knew it would still be a farm. But I also knew the Amish family who bought the farm chopped down the special elm tree we planted in memory of our mother 40 years ago.
And how would it look without the big red doors of the barn built by my ancestors two centuries ago with giant hand-hewn chestnut logs? The barn where on rainy days we had played freeze tag on the old beams, and hide and seek in the hay mows. Why had they taken that barn down?
So I was thrilled as I caught my first glimpse of the farm across the field and saw that it was still a beautiful place. The two maples my father planted shortly before he died frame the neat farm buildings at the other end of the gravel lane. The large stone chimney of the smoke house and the old yellow house built in 1775 still speak of the long history of making a living on this fertile land.
The fields are tilled in contour strips designed to maintain the topsoil just like my father laid them out, the alfalfa lush. The pond in the front meadow is fenced off so cows can’t spoil the water and a pair of Canada geese have claimed the far bank for raising this spring’s family. I’m pleased to see a blooming dogwood poking out from the side of the front woods. We were afraid the new owners might cut those trees down to increase tillable acres.
The stately 250-year old sycamores stand tall near three even taller new silos. The new barn sits firmly on the field stone foundation of the original one, the barn bridge still providing the ramp up to where machinery, hay and grain are kept. The old wooden granary again stores corn in new cribs and an Amish buggy sits under the sloped metal roof on the side.
The cows are Holsteins, not the Guernseys we used to have, but all lined up in their stanchions eating silage just like our herd did. Chickens are in the chicken yard under the old gingko tree. A garden is laid out with raspberry vines neatly tied up in the side yard where we used to play softball with our neighbor friends and croquet on the 4th of July.
Under the steady hand of a young hired man, six mules pull a plow in the field where mom’s tree once stood. Now I see why they would find it in the way. This is a working farm — a tree, even a tree with meaning, shouldn’t impede the hard labor of making a living here. And this new farm needs a different kind of barn now that most of the cow feed is stored in the silos.
The farm is neater and more put together — all black and white now — more coherent in function and form than when we grew up there. Without the use of electricity, the ugly wires suspended from building to building are gone. The farm is more alive than the last couple of decades of my father’s life, as he no longer cultivated a garden, had chickens or his own cows.
The neighbor farmer my father had last leased the fields to was not tidy. He left machinery lying around, the fences were haphazard, cows often wandering into the crops. I am happy that the new owners care how things look.
The Amish are taught not to be prideful, but it is clear they are proud of what they have accomplished. The tiny Mrs. Stolzfus in sturdy rubber boots, a wool head scarf, and her sixth child in her arms, said, “We love this farm. We are so happy to be here. When we are too old to do this anymore, we hope our children will want it, too.”
Her husband, Enis, dressed in a straw hat and similar boots, gladly showed us how he milked the 60 cows without benefit of electricity – some combination of a propane generator and air pressure that I didn’t understand — very ingenious.
I’m glad I waited a decade to return. The deep ties I have to the place are loosened, my images of growing up there so cemented in my memory that I was ready to see it newly. The decade also gave this new family the time to return the farm to its proudest state — a productive, vibrant dairy farm, just as my father had wanted.
I’m sad about it not still being our home, but relieved that the fertile soil is still being tilled, that another family, maybe for as many generations as mine, will love and nurture it as we did.