Looking back 75 or 100 years ago, history tells us that many Trumbull County families were rural, living in the country. They tended to have big gardens and a couple of cows and pigs with a few chickens to produce as much of their own food as possible and be self-sufficient. It was a different time and society.
Recently, I had a visit from a man who had an interest in what was going on in agriculture in our area. After we finished our conversation about new and different trends in local agriculture, we got to talking about related topics, as often happens.
This man is young, about 27 years old, and not yet married but has a girlfriend. He said she was well-educated and is currently a teacher. Then he went on to tell me about her interest in being as self-sufficient as possible. She wants to live out in the country and have a big vegetable garden and be able to can or preserve as many of the vegetables from the garden as possible.
We agreed that growing a garden can be a good idea, with some limits. He said she was thinking about an acre or more in vegetables. I had to ask if she really knew just how big an acre of vegetables really is, especially if she was going to do most of the work with her (or his) own labor. He wasn't sure she had thought about that, but he had.
If she wanted to buy a small tractor or power cultivator to get the work done, that would make it possible. But that partly defeats the idea of being self-sufficient. And equipment costs money and takes energy to build.
Making sure the soil where the garden will be planted is productive and well-drained is essential. My friend said he didn't think his girlfriend had thought much about that. Once the site is located, getting the ground ready for planting is next and needs to be done right to make sure of good soil contact with seeds and plants.
We agreed that it takes time and is no easy job to get the seeds and the various tomato and pepper plants in the ground. Once they are in and growing, the weeds must be controlled. An old-fashioned hoe is one of the best tools for that, but that means hard work, especially on a hot August day.
Once the garden is ready to be harvested, it has to be picked fairly soon. The produce has to be eaten, canned or preserved or given to the neighbors or local food bank. All that means time and work, and my friend wasn't sure if his girlfriend had given it much thought.
Gardens of a reasonable size to fit family needs are good and should be encouraged, but we agreed an acre might be a bit much for two of them.
Then he went on to say that she wanted to have a small barn on her land with room enough to buy a cow so they could have their own fresh milk every day. That raised my eyebrows, so I asked him if she had really considered all that goes with having a cow? First, just one cow gets lonely, so two are better.
Cows take a lot of care, with feed and water in front of them most of the time. They also need to be outside some for exercise. But most of all, they have to be milked at least twice a day, night and morning. So someone has to get up early before going to work to milk her and home at night to repeat the process.
Milking a cow by hand is an art, or maybe a science, that has to be learned. That takes time and cooperation from the cow. If you don't know how to do it, she may not be happy. Milk must be kept in clean containers and cooled down as soon as possible, taking more time.
Someone has to clean the manure from behind the cow. Finding an area and the time to spread it is another job that has to be done, because it is good organic fertilizer.
My friend kind of shrugged his shoulders when he talked about all these ideas his girlfriend has. They sounded good, but when reality sets in, are they?
Parker is an independent writer for the Tribune.