On my parents’ farm in Benton County, Iowa, in the 1920s and 30s, we raised cattle, hogs, chickens, and sometimes sheep. We also raised a few colts since horses pulled our carriages, our machines, wagons, and hay racks. The machines included a walking plow; two two-bottom, fourteen-inch plows with seats requiring five or six horses each; a disc with a seat using four horses; a harrow with a cart with a seat using four horses; a clod chopper for occasional use; a two-row corn planter; a ten-foot seeder for oats and clover and timothy seeding; and four one-row corn plows.
We needed two hay racks and four grain wagons with high sides and higher band boards for picking eared corn. At home we had two cribs and two elevators driven by horses. We drove into the barn with wagons of oats and shoveled the oats off into a large bin for horse feed. The hay racks were unloaded with a large fork and a rope over pulleys drawn up by a horse—Daisey or Harley—ridden by one of the younger children.
Our work would generally be considered fun since we exercised and were strong and healthy. We worked together, ate together and played together. At one time, all seven children went to school on the bus, which was a model T truck with a special transmission and an exhaust pipe running down the center of the bus, boards on each side to rest our feet and keep us warm.
In extreme weather, snow or mud, we used a sled or a wagon and a spirited team of horses. In cold weather, our feet in the sled were warmed by slabs, with soap stones heated in the oven, plus many blankets and horse blankets, and many clothes, some made by our parents, and handed down from older child to younger child, with necessary alterations by my mother.
We think we ate well. Much of our food was fresh. Mother’s garden had many varieties of food such as lettuce, radishes, onions, peas, beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash and watermelon. With many welcome hands and numerous pails it was irrigated when necessary. We filled a tile with water to irrigate the cucumbers. Water came from a stock tank and was handed over a fence. We had a small push-weeder as well as numerous hoes and rakes. For potatoes we borrowed a machine to plant the cut-up potatoes, as well as one to dig them. We moved the large potato patch, as well as items in the variety garden, yearly. We used no herbicide or insecticide with few exceptions. Our apple and cherry orchard was sprayed with a smelly ingredient.
With our large family and hired men at meals, we often needed plates for twelve or thirteen. We butchered steers and hogs on the farm. Much of it was cooked and put in jars. One time we canned 100 roosters. My father cured ham and bacon in large barrel-size crocks. I believe some items were covered with boiling lard and kept in the basement.
Our meals would always include meat, or sometimes canned salmon. Salmon was plentiful before the dams were built on the other rivers. We had a huge bin of potatoes, perhaps sixty bushels, in the cool area of the basement, and many shelves of jars containing peas, beans, pickles, corn, applesauce, berries, cherries. You can see we had pies and cakes. Most of our bread was home baked. We had graham, or rye graham, as well as white. We bought the rye and graham at the local elevator where it was ground, and the white flour from the store in Dysart. It came in fifty pound sacks. Auntie Em baked a large assortment of bread and rolls, including some with frosting.
During much of the season our food was fresh from our garden. We supplemented our butchering with fresh meat from the local butcher, “Oysters Meat Market.” We purchased it on a daily basis and kept it in an ice refrigerator. Sometimes we helped a neighbor fill his ice house from a large creek and we could secure some of that ice in return or buy it. Naturally we had our own eggs, which we used, and we traded the excess for groceries. We used a mixture of feed for the chickens.
We used self-feeders with ground oats, linseed or cottonseed meal, and tankage or meat scraps, exactly what I’ve forgotten. With shelled corn tossed in their litter late afternoon to scratch for, chickens roamed the farmstead. There was a high fence bordering the house yard in one area.
Mother hatched the eggs with a “cluck” hen and used little metal individual houses for the hen to raise about a dozen chicks. The hen could use her house in a storm or at night. She identified with her house and called her chickens, “cluck, cluck.”
We sold cream from our dairy cows, and fed the skim milk to the hogs, sometimes letting it sour in barrels with added water and ground feed to make a slop. We had fresh milk twice daily, with no pasteurization. It was filtered through a fine screen in a funnel and cooled in the basement if we had no ice, and no refrigerator. We disliked the taste of pasteurized and homogenized milk. We used a Guernsey cow’s milk to have more cream. We ate all our cereal with cream, and had cream for coffee or desserts, as well. Our whipped cream was delicious. We served it for company meals. Of course, we made our own butter.
Dad arose first each morning at 4:30 and soon called up the stairs. We men and boys followed shortly to our appointed tasks—one on the pony to bring in the milk cows and horses, another bringing the clean milk pails, about six. Then we all milked while Dad fed the sows and horses, and then headed to the hog house. Others fed the fat cattle, harnessed the horse, etc. Then we carried the milk to the house basement and separated the cream. Soon after we would eat a breakfast of oatmeal or cream of wheat, pancakes, eggs, bacon or sausage, toast, corn syrup, and butter, milk and coffee. Everybody including children drank coffee if they wanted.
We had a bull on the farm and our protection and herding was aided by a black snake (bull whip) reaching about 15 feet. We could snap flies off the barn wall with it. Actually our bulls were tame and good natured, sometimes tied-up and led to water twice daily. But they were never to be trusted.
We were careful, maybe lucky, to avoid serious injuries. One time the hay fork came loose at the barn roof and came down, splitting the straw hat brim of my brother Jim and lodging in the hay rack floor.
We had the runaways of the horses, sometimes lasting to the next fence, or to home, but we had no injuries. My Dad and Uncle Dave bought horses in the West, broke some and resold some for profit. Dad used a “w” on the horses’ legs with which he could pull the rope and stop the horse in training. He would then hitch it with one or two other horses and it would soon learn the signals. We loved and respected our horses. Our pony “Pet” walked very slowly when a small child was on her back, and stopped if they started to slip off—bareback of course.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Winter 2001.