At a dairy meeting a couple weeks ago, members of the crowd were asked to introduce themselves and tell about their farm. Everyone said what breed of cows they milked and how many head, and when it was my turn, I said I “write about” people who milk.
I do not milk. I spend eight hours a day interviewing, writing and taking pictures of people who farm, never having to do the milking, feeding or any of the real work.
There are times when I miss working on a farm, but there are times like we’re having right now — when it’s rained about every day for two weeks — that I’m glad I do not.
Because of all the rain, I have spent a great amount of my off-time indoors, reading. My book of choice lately has been the farm journal “Prosperity Far Distant: The Journal of an American Farmer” by Charles M. Wiltse, the famed historian, professor and one-time farmer from Pike County, Ohio.
If you’ve never heard of him, that makes two of us. I didn’t know anything about him until his published diary was handed to me by my editor a few months ago.
The book records the daily life and challenges on the Wiltse farm during the Great Depression, from 1933-1934.
Wiltse, 26 at the time, has just returned from Cornell University with a doctorate degree, to his family’s new farm in Pike County. He writes of the struggles of subfreezing nights, sweltering days, trying to get a loan from a government that seemed to care less, and of run-ins with trespassers, disease and a wildly volatile market for farmers.
The Wiltse family invests in poultry, and some meager field crops, while struggling to make enough from the eggs, to pay for the feed.
Telling the truth
It’s not the flashiest of titles, but neither is the story it’s author seeks to tell. It’s a story of starting and operating a farm during one of the nation’s most challenging times. It’s a story of truth, even when the truth is unpleasant.
“On the farm the day begins at five, and it is with a sigh of relief that one blows out the coal-oil lamp at nine,” Wiltse writes.
And there are other nights, amid a record-cold winter, when he is awake half the night and morning, tending to the stove.
The book is an intriguing journey into one young man’s venture on the family farm — at a time that helped define the rest of agriculture and a good part of our history.
It was published in 2012 by Ohio University Press and is worth the read. It is not the most exciting book you will ever read, but it’s pages reveal a deep truth about the struggles of farming and working with the land.