• About Farm School

    "There are obviously two educations. One should teach us how to make a living and the other how to live."
    James Adams, from his essay "To 'Be' or to 'Do': A Note on American Education", 1929

    We're a Canadian family of five, farming, home schooling, and building our own house. I'm nowhere near as regular a blogger as I used to be.

    The kids are 18/Grade 12, 16/Grade 11, and 14/Grade 10.

    Contact me at becky(dot)farmschool(at)gmail(dot)com

  • Notable Quotables

    "If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."
    William Morris, from his lecture "The Beauty of Life"

    "‘Never look at an ugly thing twice. It is fatally easy to get accustomed to corrupting influences."
    English architect CFA Voysey (1857-1941)

    "The world of books is the most remarkable creation of man. Nothing else that he builds ever lasts. Monuments fall, nations perish, civilizations grow old and die out; and, after an era of darkness, new races build others. But in the world of books are volumes that have seen this happen again and again, and yet live on, still young, still as fresh as the day they were written, still telling men’s hearts of the hearts of men centuries dead."
    Clarence Day

    "Anyone who has a library and a garden wants for nothing."

    "Histories make men wise; poets, witty; the mathematics, subtile; natural philosophy, deep; moral, grave; logic and rhetoric, able to contend."
    Sir Francis Bacon, "Essays"

    "The chief aim of education is to show you, after you make a livelihood, how to enjoy living; and you can live longest and best and most rewardingly by attaining and preserving the happiness of learning."
    Gilbert Highet, "The Immortal Profession: The Joys of Teaching and Learning"

    "Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment."
    Walter Wriston

    "I'd like to give you a piece of my mind."
    "Oh, I couldn't take the last piece."
    Ginger Rogers to Frances Mercer in "Vivacious Lady" (1938)

    "No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem."
    Booker T. Washington

    "Please accept my resignation. I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member."
    Attributed to Groucho Marx in "The Groucho Letters" by Arthur Sheekman

    "If you can't say something good about someone, sit right here by me."
    Alice Roosevelt Longworth

    "If we bring a little joy into your humdrum lives, we feel all our hard work ain't been in vain for nothin'."
    Jean Hagen as "Lina Lamont" in "Singin' in the Rain" (1952)
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  • Copyright © 2005-2016 Please do not use any of my words or my personal photographs without my express permission.

Making Hay: A Summer Rhapsody

Before Tom and I were married and I moved here from Manhattan, I bought some books to help me understand my new life. One of them was Making Hay by Verlyn Klinkenborg, who splits his time at The New York Times and his small farm in upstate New York, and whose writing is equally split between the down-to-earth and the lyrical of rural life. Every summer, I’m reminded of passages from the book, which 11 years ago helped me understand what I was seeing and smelling (and why I was eternally running to town for parts).

Some of these passages have come to mind over the past few days, as I watch the the tractor make its rounds in the hay field — as I watch the kids, who are trying, with much effort and even more difficulty and bicycles instead of tractors, to make their own big round bales in the front yard from the swathes of grass their father cut with the tractor the other evening — as I watch Tom take off, to check the progress of the haylage crew, in his old 1978 Ford pick-up with the kids in the back, “gimmee” ball caps from John Deere and United Farmers of Alberta shading little brown faces, and little brown arms hanging over the side.

If farmers were at all disposed to rhapsody, they might get eloquent about the work itself, and particularly about the process of adaptation. There is a machine for every job on the farm, and yet much of the work, it seems, falls between machines. Figuring out what to do with a sickle blade that will not fit is the appointed labor of farming just as surely as it planting oats or combining soybeans. The Unexpected stalks a farm in big boots like a vagrant bent on havoc.

Not every farmer is an inventor, but the good ones have the seeds of invention within them. Economy and efficiency move their relentless tinkering, and yet the real motive often seems to be aesthetic. The mind that first designed a cutter bar is not far different from the mind that can take the intractable steel of an outsized sickle blade and make it hum in the end. The question is how to reduce the simplicity that constitutes a problem (“It’s simple; it’s broke.”) to the greater simplicity that constitutes a solution. …

The rain had let up, but if anything the wind had stiffened. The alfalfa seemed not to wave or billow in the breeze so much as to abase itself voluntarily against the earth. Plants on the rises flattened themselves like men under fire and then sprang erect again. Noise from the exhaust stack behind us blew away and left us in silence or flew into our backs and warmed us. Louie lowered the header, engaged the drives, and we moved forward, the wicked sickle sound muffled, its teeth full of alfalfa at last.

Hanging over the machine like the figurehead of the good ship “Urban Boy,” I peered into the header below me. Stiff ranks of alfalfa shuddered slightly under the impact of the sickle blade and fell straight back onto the conveyor belts. They bounced toward the center gap like almonds on a sorting line and disappeared. I turned around and looked back over Louie’s head. A narrow swath of crushed alfalfa emerged from the tail of the machine and pointed straight north to four persons standing in a clump at the edge of the feedlot. They all waved briskly. …

Game in southwestern Minnesota, warned by the windrower’s roar, is well accustomed to this species of interference and usually makes good its escape, though that night over coffee at Country Kitchen Elmore Jack told us about once having rescued a fawn lying in the path of his swather. Louie and I scared up no rabbits or pheasants or deer. Insects were not so lucky. As the windrower took to the field, the swallows that filled the barn eaves and the granary dormers took to the air ahead of us. For them the swather served as a huge mechanized beater on a driven insect shoot. They arched and plummeted in the breeze, taking moths and other winged insects right off the rotating reel. When the wind blew in our faces, the path behind us closed with swooping, diving birds, like the wake of a garbage scow being towed out to sea.

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