Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Silos that stand alone upon a piece of old agricultural land announce to folks traveling by that a farm once stood on this ground. They are flagships of a missing farmstead. The silo above stands by itself on the old Coy farm near Kirksville in Madison County, Kentucky.

This was once the place of several outbuildings and a farm house -- now gone.

I talked to a local man named Cud about the above silo. He told me that the land owner had considered knocking it down but it was too messy of a job. Therefore, it was allowed to become one of the silos in the region that are now the only clues that an active farmstead once occupied a particular piece of land.

The oldest silos that I remember from living in the Midwest were shaped in a cylindrical form, the exterior were square pieces of beautiful brown shiny tiles about two feet by two feet -- all placed from top to bottom around the silo. Each of the produced tiles usually had an impressed company name. I also remember metal types and cement silos. All were markers for folks trying to navigate their way through the countryside.

For those not familiar with silos, they are used to store forage for animals on the farm and usually were essential in cold regions. It allowed them to provide feed when there was none to graze due to snow cover. Dairy cows are dependent on forage to keep their milk flowing.

There are hundreds, maybe even thousands of silos that have been knocked down by their land owners and especially developers -- in the Midwest, Upland South, and beyond. But to give some developers credit, a few have saved their beauty by incorporating them into their developments. I even know one woman that built an antique shop on a piece of land and left the silo standing as a logo marker for her shop.

But in reality, the stand alone silo portrays a broken connection to a once thriving farm culture.

Sunday, April 25, 2010


Retirement brings a new horizon to my life. Where once I was outward facing I am now inward facing. Realizing a life that I always desired, I feel fortunate. Economies have changed as well as my perspective on what is truly important in life. I would say I always desired a simple life and now as I age I can follow that path. That is what Sunday Simplicities are about -- my easy outlook toward life. Stay tuned to more Sunday Simplicities on most Sundays.
Sunday mornings are usually very peaceful here on Bear Mountain. My one lane dirt road is sleepy today without cars to arouse it and nature weaves its way through the morning quiet. This morning I am joined by bird calls and songs as well as a few insects slowly inspecting the environment. The morning is cool as a strong windy storm moved through during the night bringing a cold front. Not that cold -- just right for my plans this morning.
As I have little flat land that is sunny I thought a container garden with herbs and some bright flowers would work in my semi-sun driveway -- up against the house.. Sound strange? No it will be easy to care for plus will be a nice welcome home for me every time I pull in the drive.
Everything I do is on a budget now that I am retired. I collected canisters over the past few weeks at garage sales. Also, went to plant sales and visited a farmers market to pick up plants. I found stands for the plants at some used furniture stores.

As I fear, cheap potting soil might have sludge in it, I went all out and shot my wad on two special blend bags of potting soil. This morning I started putting everything together. I know I will not finish it today but I will have a head start on getting it completed.

My homestead came with most of the land fenced when I moved here in 2007. I was delighted about that as I had Lil, a black lab that likes to take off for yonder woods. Then I became the owner of Sal who is a huge male Golden Retriever that loves lots of exercise. Inside the fence they are safe. And I don't have to chase over hill and dale if they decide to investigate the countryside. Fencing makes it easy.

Sal is appealing to me to let him out of the gate so he can be by me while I work on the new container garden. He has tons of room to roam inside the fence but always likes to be where I am. I can't take chances as he will roam up the lane to visit other dogs. Oh, how do I resist such a plea? Easy. I cannot run as fast as my dogs, so its better to know that they are OK in the big yard.

I inherited this little section of garden that is also out by the drive. It has horrible soil and I have rather ignored it over the time I have been here. I did put in the bird bath that someone had placed in their trash pick-up. I am not above picking up such things. Someday I will do something about this little patch.

Another storm was brewing on the horizon and I had accomplished most of what I had planned for the morning. I've learned to be easy on oneself -- no need to rush through life. Not only did I accomplish some of my project but I noticed the locust blooms, the titmouse eating a tent caterpillar, a small green worm crawling over the wire fence where the dogs were watching me, some white daisy like wildflowers, heard woodpeckers drumming off in the woods, and saw the lovely cumulus clouds becoming heavy with rain.

Locust blooms by my drive. It has been a good morning.

For ideas on gardening anywhere check out my post about the book, Gardening Anywhere.

Friday, April 23, 2010


Today I read a Mary Oliver poem on the 7-0 blog. Titled, The Gift, you can check it out here. It required a couple readings before I realized the significance of it.

My homestead property is surrounded by hundreds of acres that march up Bear mountain and down the other side all mostly wild land. I feel fortunate to live in such a place as I revel in all that nature gives. And that is the key word in this post as well as the Mary Oliver poem that I mention above. Nature gives to me -- Oliver calls it a gift. And in her poem she gives back. It made me take stock of what I give back.

For me I can give back simply. Live lightly on the homestead, avoid chemicals, protect from unwanted intruders, and welcome nature in all its forms.

Any other suggestions to give back to nature?

Thursday, April 22, 2010


About a month ago I was lost on twisting narrow roads that you find in the back-country where I live. Even though I was lost I was observing the beautiful views from my windshield. I knew I would eventually find my way out of the road maze.

While lost, I spotted this old abandoned Kentucky homestead off the side of the road with a real estate for sale sign. The place was gated so I had to shoot my post photos from quite a distance.

Now I am speculating that the attitude of most people who drive pass this homestead view it as a bunch of falling down, useless shacks (except developers). I view it in another way.

This is what I view when I gaze out upon such places. I see -- continuity and change, tradition, folk culture, authentic people, family, settlement patterns, craftsmanship, material culture, life and death, and sustainability over time and space. What do you see?

Saturday, April 17, 2010


When A. deDoes passed through Ellis Island in the early 1900s his stock in trade was his blacksmithing skills. He was immigrating from Holland to the U.S. -- a young married man with wife and young daughter. As a family they knew precious little English. But he was of a tough mind and knew what he wanted in this new country. He took his family and trade to St Louis, Missouri and built a blacksmith shop on a piece of land where he called himself a horseshoer and wagonmaker.
Where the family lived in St Louis is not known but records show that the wife, a daughter and a new born American son returned to Holland for a few years. No one knows why. Perhaps for economic reasons? This is a presumption, as much of social history seems to be when there is little written documentation. Family stories do survive but those can become inflated as they are passed from generation to generation. But basically, I believe there is always a nugget of truth to passed-down family stories.
When I met A. deDoes, I was eighteen years old. Fifty-one years ago. He was then retired from an automotive job in Michigan. He had been painting oils for a number of years -- painting the stories of his past. He was kindly toward me and showed me all his paintings. All naive -- folk in nature. At that time he still carried his Dutch heritage represented by a heavy accent.

Now a member of his family has the above large three feet by four feet painting hanging in their family room. Its frame is pine, two inches wide, and is the original handmade frame designed by A. (Anthoney) deDoes. Yet, little history is known about the man with the exception of the bits and pieces that I describe at the beginning of this post.

With the large painting above, A. deDoes painted the memory of the first place he moved to in the United States. He included himself working at the forge, his son on a donkey, and a helper shoeing a horse. Unfortunately, all the other paintings he artistically worked over in his latter years have disappeared. But, fortunately there is this monumental painting of an immigrant and his attempt to make it in his new country of America, no matter what it took.

Many social reflections can be considered with the painting. One is that it was a time of overlap between horse and wagon transportation and automotive vehicles. Two, is that it is a statement about the toughness needed to migrate to our country. And three, that complex personal memories remain in the psyche for years after they happen. Luckily for some, they lay it down for posterity through art such as this.

(Click on photo at top for enlargement of A.deDoes oil painting)

Friday, April 16, 2010


OK, time to shout out. I try to stay away from such things on Folkways Notebook but once in a while something gets in my craw and I need to rant. This rant is about our food supply. Now the government thinks we need to improve the safety of our food by attaching tighter strings. Now I ask, who will this favor the corporate world or the human world? You be the judge. Below is a link to a site on the S 510 bill that is coming up soon for a vote in the Senate. I invite you to read all about it on other sites in the time that you have. It has already passed the House. It was to be voted on by the Senate on April 13th but has been delayed. If you feel the bill is not to your liking may I suggest a call to your Senator. The link below is a letter wrote by and signed by many of the small and local food producers in our country.


Tuesday, April 13, 2010



I first heard about Bill Best when I spotted his seeds for sale on a counter at a small shop outside of Berea, Kentucky. They were in small clear bags with a label of both the name of the seeds and the words Sustainable Mountain Agriculture Center. I asked the clerk about the seed packets and he told me, "oh, those are Bill Best's seeds." Since I was unfamiliar with who Bill Best was I asked the shop manager about Bill Best and was told, "oh, he is a collector of heirloom seeds." I wrote down the center's name from the seed packets so I could search for it online.

My search found Bill Best's site titled the Sustainable Mountain Agriculture Center. It contained information on books, articles, heirloom seeds and other agricultural information. A very worthwhile site to check out if you are interested in heirloom seeds.

I decided that I would like to know more about the man who collected all these seeds so I emailed him and we soon were setting up a date to meet at his center.

There is no roadside sign to indicate the center but I had good directions and had no trouble finding it. From the road one would not know of all the activities that go on at the place. It's located in a beautiful rural area in Madison County, Kentucky.

Bill had told me in his email that this is a busy time at the center and that he would be working until five so we made an early evening appointment.

When I arrived he immediately gave me a tour of his high tunnels (like high hoop houses) where he had tomatoes growing that were at least a foot high already. He uses soaker hoses to water them, keeping them in the tunnel during their entire growing period. He said he buys bumble bees for the tunnels to cross pollinate the plants. He then took me out to his blackberries and introduced me to his wife, Irmgard, who was weeding.

Unexpectedly some local young men showed up wishing to purchase some of Bill's heirloom seeds. The young men, Mark and Travis, told Bill how family members in years past had purchased seeds from him and now Mark was starting a garden of his own and wanted to use only heirloom seeds.

Soon Travis, Mark and I were sitting in Bill's living room (he lives on site) and Mark was thumbing through packets of seeds to purchase. All the while, Bill was answering question from all of us.
Here are some of the things we learned:
-He concentrates his heirloom collecting on beans and tomatoes from the Appalachian area.
-That the Appalachian area food crops, historically, have been mainly corn, beans, and tomatoes .
-Bill's mother influenced his love of heirloom seeds as she saved the old open pollinated seeds she used for her next years crop.
-That Bill has 450 varieties of heirloom beans, not all for sale.
- Farmers markets are where he sells his crop of tomatoes and beans. He also visits other farmers markets always on the lookout for heirloom seeds.
- He has collected many of the stories behind many of his seeds and has two books in the works on this subject.
-He does not buy commercial heirloom seeds, he only collects primary seeds from folks that grow them in the Appalachian area.
-That heirlooms are open pollinators.
-That beans have been grown in the Appalachian area for about 1000 years.
-That heirlooms are not used in large-scale agriculture.
-There is a growing trend in growing heirlooms.

Bill, at 74, has collected seeds most of his life. That is between teaching at Berea College for 40 years and doing a bit of cattle farming. He has lived at his present place for 37 years.

I decided to try out one of his bean seeds. I have a very small garden patch but I thought it would help the cause of perpetuating heirloom seeds as I planned to save some at harvest time. I could not believe the array of names on the beans --Doyce Chambers Greasey Cut Short, Lazy Wife Greasey, Goose Beans, Barnes Mountain Cornfield, Bertie Best and Big John are but a few. My choice was Goose Beans.

Bill believes that the local Appalachian farmers markets can be conduits for maintaining the region's seed diversity. Gardeners and farmers can perpetuate the circular system of growing and saving to assure that seed diversity of the region remains. If the industrial crops were to fail we would have the heirlooms to fall back on.

People like Bill are an assest to our agricultural world.

Sunday, April 4, 2010


Times have changed. We have gone from traditional farming with draft horses to farming with trucks, tractors and assorted other engine vehicles. Draft horse power was converted into a form of measurement for the original engines of the newly developed steam ships and ultimately cars. trucks and tractors.

Over the past year, I have rode by this old truck parked along side of an abandoned building. It caught my eye originally by the huge white grill which spelled out the large letters -- GMC. I am a bit sentimental about old GM trucks as my father worked for General Motors Corporation's truck and coach division for 36 years in Michigan.

So that is what caught my eye at first. Then the license came next. It was registered, "farm," on its license plate. Then I realized it was a dump truck. The probably 70s truck, spelled out hard work -- which would be farm work by its designated license.

Nature, time, and people had beautified this dump truck. Like an old antique it had a patina of use and character. Above is a metal step up to the passenger side. Beat up for sure but still sturdy.

Now here is what I thought seemed like a modern painting. Rust had designed a pattern all over its dump section. It would take years for nature to oxidize this look.

Don't know who owns this beauty. I find its working scars a tribute to its many years of service. Years of good service due to a company that was proud of its trucks back when my father worked for GM.

Traditional farming changed when real horse power was converted to engine horse power.

But there is still one thing a truck or tractor can't do, but a draft horse can-- get in the fields to work when there is mud. Win some, lose some.

Saturday, April 3, 2010


When I first looked at this place as a possibility for my future home, this old barn was not mentioned on the spec sheet as being on the property. Apparently it didn't have any use as a barn anymore as it was cock-eyed, had barn boards missing from the exterior, and the tin roof had been leaking for years. The realtor did not mention it because it was old and decrepit in his eyes! It was a barn to be torn down.

So I moved in and thought about the old barn sitting out in the pasture. So what if it has all these problems, I thought, it had a beauty and dignity in its own right. Just like the older people that we meet on a daily basis -- they sometimes need some appreciation to maintain their dignity. and dignity they do have. A walker, a wheelchair, a guide dog, or a cane are just elements to allow them to remain in the flow of life. It has nothing to do with their mind -- or their smile when you give them a nod.

The aging mind does not deteriorate like knees, hips or other elderly problems. This has been proven. So, hopefully the elderly will not be left off your spec sheet of life. They have a beauty and dignity just like my old barn. I will not tear it down as it still flows with artistic sensibility givng me pleasure as I go through my day.

Friday, April 2, 2010



At one time, I remember writing RR2 as part of the address for letters being sent to my cousins in the country. RR meaning rural route. I knew that RR had a connection to the words, rural free delivery -- but I was, "in the dark," as to what was the meaning of rural free delivery or RFD for short. So recently I did a little research and came up with the answer to my long ago perplexity. I thought, "better late than never," to find an answer to my childhood question.


This is what I found. Up until about 1891 residents had to travel to the nearest town to pick up their mail at the local postoffice. If they wanted it delivered to their home they had to pay private carriers to bring it from that near-by post- office. After 1891 rural routes were slowly established across the nation by the U.S. post office that by law provided free delivery to rural homes. Thus was born the acronym RFD.


So why did I put RR in the rural cousin's address rather than RFD. Well, in the past rural free delivery service included both the rural route (RR) number -- such as, "RR 5, Box 123." Box being the number on the mailbox. Rural route being the route number established by the U.S. postoffice in their delivery system.


Today things are different for rural routes. No more RR designations. When the 911 emergency system was created RR was discontinued. House numbers were then used on mailboxes so emergency services could find the house.


So there you have it. From RFD to house address on the mailboxes of today.

I have been taking photos of Kentucky rural mailboxes over the last couple days in Madison and Garrard counties. I took shots of those that kinda made a statement about the people that live in the house.

Without RFD we wouldn't have rural home mailboxes -- or what has become a custom of accessorizing our mailboxes. I would consider many of the decorated mailboxes as a folk art type.