Notes from Of Farming and Classics: A Memoir by David Grene

p. 137 “This first farm of mine, the American one, was a splendid blend of mechanisation and old-time farming. I really cannot see why a version of this could not actually have survived. What happened is something like this: At the end of the war, the factories which had during the war exclusively been busy producing machines for the army turned back to producing tractors. They decided that the market to attack first was the area still occupied by small farms. … the farmers’ horses were in direct competition for the provision of power. So from about 1947 to 1955 advertisements and personal agents worked at selling the tractor-cum-horse farmers a little light tractor, to supplement his heavy one, to do the corn planting, corn cultivation and hay work instead of the last team These small tractors cost eight to ten times more than a team of horses and at least as much to keep up as a team…. The older horse machines were relatively cheap and simple … no tools left to use animal power.”

p. 139 “In the modern climate of opinion, where there is a strong undercurrent asserting the dullness and monotony of agriculture, there are always many people who readily accept the industrial idea that the less help needed, the better… there are fewer and fewer farmers themselves, and those who are left are forced to farm at a speed and a tension which leaves any hardship of the past simply nowhere… There have been almost no forum in which abstract questions could be raised about the value of the farmer’s work to himself… There are very good reasons for a smaller size of farm and the deeper personal attitudes that it invites. We have also seen in the 1980s a fearful decimation of farms simply because the price of land suddenly declined; and so did the farmers’ security with banks, who promptly foreclosed on them for debts incurred in the expansion of acreage and machinery, which, now on the books, they were unable to pay when the security was called in.”

p. 146 “Still the rhetoric continues, enforcing the conviction, now almost always acquired at second hand, that oil has saved them from drudgery. As though driving work animals was drudgery and driving the tractor was not; and caring for animals after the workday was drudgery, but filling the tractor or repairing it was not. Hobbies, sport and pets are of course the preferred forms of spending one’s activity and gaining pleasure. The delight in plowing and the partnership with animals in it is as old as Hesoid as he gives direction for the strength of the tree-formed plow ready to resist the power of the oxen as they struggle with a hard spot in the furrow, or in Aeschylus’s Prometheus, who gave man work-animals to be his substitute in the heaviest toils. It is there in Brueghel’s picture of the fall of Icarus as the plowman follows his mule with the little wheel in the plow in front of him already invented to hold the plow effortlessly in place at the depth desired. .. I remember about 35 years ago in Normandy watching a boy plowing with his black Pecherons, and walking alongside the horses that did not even have a rein. They were tied from bit to bit with a loose rope on the inside trace horse, which was used only when the boy was going to lead them home. When they came to the end of the furrow, he would tip up the plow … shout firm commands to his team, and round the horses would go….The beauty of those days of plowing was startling. I am thinking now particularly of the Wicklow farm. Out plowing was usually done in March or April, though sometimes also in fall or late winter, when the ground was not hard hard frozen. In a typically early spring day, one walked just fast enough to keep warm, and the gulls and rooks followed in the furrow to pick up the worms., and the sun would come breaking up the little touch of hoarfrost. I can still relive it and delight sharply, almost with pain at its loss, for I will never enjoy it again.”

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