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On a beautiful Tennessee fall afternoon, I pulled in the long gravel driveway of Uncle Sid and Aunt Sadie’s farm. Their white frame house, located among the landscape of the multi-colored hillsides, showed perfectly what autumn on a Tennessee farm is all about. But among the fall foliage next to the drive, I noticed a red, white and blue yard sign stuck in the ground for everyone to see.
I knew Uncle Sid didn’t like those things because he didn’t even let me put one there when I was running for county commissioner. “Folks ought to vote for who you are, not how many signs you have up and down the road,” he had said. I couldn’t wait to hear his explanation for this one.
Aunt Sadie met me at the front door, wiping her hands on her apron as usual, and led me to the back portion of their house. There, sitting at the round kitchen table, was Uncle Sid sipping on a cup of coffee and working on a plate of Aunt Sadie’s homemade cookies. We exchanged pleasantries, and I took my seat at the table to share some of those cookies. Uncle Sid once again directed his attention to the plate.
“Just saw a sign at the road in your yard supporting Amendment No. 2 in the Nov. 4 election. Thought you didn’t like yard signs,” I said, looking down at my cookies.
Rolling his eyes and giving a deep sigh, he answered, “Ain’t my sign, it’s your Aunt Sadie’s.”
“It’s an important vote, and if people don’t pay attention, they will let those four amendments on the ballot slip by, and No. 2 is the most important,” said my little gray-haired aunt, taking off her apron and standing over the two of us.
I could tell she had something to talk about, so I grabbed one of the cookies meant for Uncle Sid and waited for my aunt to get on her soapbox.
“A preacher told a story the other night about a man who had two mules he couldn’t tell apart,” she began. “So, he cut one mule’s mane fairly close and the other mule’s tail somewhat shorter. That worked for a while until they both grew back out, and then the man had to come up with another way to solve his problem.”
I was surprised by Aunt Sadie’s storytelling lead and could tell that Uncle Sid also was wondering where this was going. Aunt Sadie continued: “The man decided to study his problem a little closer, and after a detailed examination and a lot of studying, he came up with a solution. He determined that the white mule was two inches shorter than the black mule.”
The room grew silent and both our eyes seemed to cloud over for a second. I wanted to laugh, but thought better and just waited to see what was coming next.
“You see,” said Aunt Sadie, smiling at us, “many times we can’t see the true answer for looking too deep at our problem. There are those who wish to elect our appellate judges, who are the Supreme Court justices, the 12 judges on the Court of Appeals, and the 12 judges of the Court of Criminal Appeals. They want to put them into all this political stuff we have now with campaign funding and getting folks to back them. If we vote yes on Amendment 2 in November, we get to keep a system similar to our current one by continuing to trust the governor to appoint the most qualified people. We’ll also be adding a new layer of accountability by having our elected representatives in the legislature confirm or reject the governor’s appointees. Then, we still vote on whether to keep the judges at the end of their respective terms.”
Uncle Sid and I sat there looking at Aunt Sadie in total amazement. Our coffee was cold, but it didn’t matter. All I wanted was one of those yard signs.
Uncle Sid turned to me and said, “See why I let her put that sign at the road? It’s amazing what they talk about at those FCE meetings each week. I just hope folks vote for that Amendment No. 2, because if they don’t, we menfolk will be back to store-bought cookies, and our courts will have these ladies to deal with.”
Aunt Sadie also has a way with words.
Pettus L. Read writes for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
I love this time of the year. September is slipping over the horizon and the month of October is the same as here. October has always been special for me and one reason could be because of the fact it was the month of my birth. Birthdays are pretty big events in our family and coming from a dairy family we “milk” them for everything they are worth. The opposite of birth is death, which also has somewhat of a celebration, but at least during the birth celebration the person being celebrated gets to enjoy the food. And I guess it is the food that I do really enjoy.
The day I was born, my daddy had to sell one of our meat hogs to pay the doctor. It cost twenty-five dollars to bring me into this world. And you know, every time I would get into trouble as a kid and the price of hogs would be up, I could swear I would hear my daddy say under his breath, “I wish I had that hog back.” But he loved me, and one year he even bought me a football helmet for my birthday to prove it. I never played football, but it was great for protecting your head when jumping a bicycle across ditches and gullies. On second thought, I guess the hog was a better buy.
We also have the changing of the leaves, the cooler temperatures, as well as hayrides and festivals going on now, but it is also chili, wiener roasts and molasses time just to name a few fall favorites. It all started for me when the September Equinox occurred and the sun rose directly in the east and set directly in the west on that day; I started thinking about autumn farm parties. You know the kind, those with lots of pumpkins and straw sitting around, along with happy scarecrows inviting you in for some cider and molasses cookies to warm the cockles of your heart, whatever that may be. I love fall days down on the farm and the festivals that hit this time of the year are what a harvest moon and a corn shock were created for. The only problem associated with this time of the year is that there are not enough Saturdays to fit in all the festivals I want to go to.
There is one I try to attend each year and I suggest you do the same. It is located at the Oscar Farris Agricultural Museum in Nashville. The annual Music and Molasses Festival takes place this year October 18 through 19 at the museum located on the grounds of Ellington Agriculture Center in southwest Nashville. It is a special event that draws a large number of people from the Nashville area, as well as across the state. During the two days of the Music and Molasses Festival, visitors have the opportunity to see and taste molasses being cooked over a wood fire by the Guenther family from Muddy Pond, up in Overton County. A horse is used to press the juice from the cane and then the molasses is slowly cooked and skimmed off to produce the final product.
The grounds contain several log cabins and even a log schoolhouse complete with the hickory stick over in the corner to keep kids in order. There is even an old-fashioned lye soap making demonstration outside a log cabin along with folks dressed in period costumes to make the day even more authentic. That lye soap could come in handy this year to help keep the flu virus at bay.
There is spinning demonstrations, wood carving, herb garden information, rides in buggies, broom making, and lots of food and plenty of old time music. It is two days truly made for a celebration of fall and a chance to get your cockles warmed as I have said before.
If you have never been to the Oscar Farris Agricultural Museum, then you have missed out on a lot of agricultural history all gathered under one roof. It contains a collection of thousands of agricultural hand tools, implements, artifacts, clothing, buggies, wagons, and just about anything used in agriculture production from days gone by. The collection is housed in a huge white barn, with two levels of exhibits. The Tennessee Agriculture Hall of Fame is also located in the museum. It allows you the opportunity to see how some individuals have made major contributions to the Tennessee agriculture success story. There is not an admission fee to see the museum, and it would surely be worth your time to visit one of the best agriculture information sites in the state. The museum presents, for the novice, what farming was like in Tennessee from the time the area was settled, up until the era of the introduction of the tractor.
It is molasses time in Tennessee! So cook up some biscuits with creamy butter and let’s get to soppin’. Fall is in the air!
Pettus L. Read writes for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at email@example.com
A few weeks back, I received an invitation to be the speaker for the Wilson County Fair Century Farm Luncheon. It was one of those hot days in August, but it was a grand day for a visit to one of Tennessee’s top county fairs and a chance to celebrate the Century Farm Program in our state. Along with the Century Farm families as guests, there were also numerous special guests on hand who had contacts with the government, and their attendance brought back the memory of an old story about my Uncle Sid’s visit with a government man out on his farm. That visit wasn’t as important as recognizing the farms in Wilson County that have been around for more than 100 years, but it sure did cause the government man, I understand, to consider changing his line of work. Wilson County has one of the largest numbers of Century Farms in the state. Each year they celebrate that accomplishment at their outstanding county fair with a special luncheon. I look forward to this event each year because it does recognize the farming family unit, which makes up 98 percent of today’s farms located across this country.
The story is told that on the farm where my Uncle Sid and Aunt Sadie live, a young man drove up in front of their house in one of those white, federally owned cars with official license plates on the back. Uncle Sid was sitting on the front porch enjoying an afternoon break from working in the garden out back of the house. The old man had seen the car earlier, down at the country store, and had heard that the government man driving it was asking a lot of questions in the area.
Of course, you can just imagine what rumors developed from the local store-sitters who saw the car, and Uncle Sid was a bit concerned why the government had sent someone to his house. He had been taught by his own grandparents to be somewhat cautious of the government. They had gone through the Civil War and Uncle Sid figured they knew what they were talking about when it came to trust in Washington and all.
A young fellow in a white, short sleeve shirt and necktie got out of the car and walked up the old man’s sidewalk with a pad and pencil in his hand. Uncle Sid does not trust anyone, other than a preacher, and not too many of them, who wears a tie in August and comes out on the farm with a pencil and paper in hand.
As the government man stepped up on the steps, Uncle Sid asked him, "What are you selling, young feller?”
"I'm not selling anything, sir," the young man replied very politely. "I'm the Census Taker."
No one had ever approached Uncle Sid like that before. In fact, he didn’t even know what a census was, let alone someone who actually came to your house and took it from you. Uncle Sid swallowed a bit and asked, "A what?"
The young man from the government knew he had walked upon a problem for such a hot day and tried his best to explain his reason for being there. Smiling, somewhat, he said, "A Census Taker. We are trying to find out how many people are in the United States."
The young man’s statement caused Uncle Sid to lean back in his old, front porch rocker and take his well-worn cap off his balding head. He took out his red bandana, wiped his brow and began to scratch his head a bit and said, "Well, young feller, I guess you're just wasting your time with me, because I have no idea, but if you find out I sure would like to know."
To be selected as a Century Farm, a farm owner has to answer several questions and fill out an application. I’m just glad those who have received the honor were much more interested in sharing their information than, I am sure, Uncle Sid would have been.
To be considered for Century Farm eligibility, a farm must be owned by the same family for at least 100 years, must produce $1,000 in revenue annually, and must have at least 10 acres. There are currently 1,487 Century Farms all across the state, with many of them having been around for more than 200 years.
The Tennessee Department of Agriculture began the program in 1976. Since 1984, the Center for Historic Preservation at Middle Tennessee State University has handled the important work of documenting Tennessee’s agricultural heritage and history through the Tennessee Century Farms Program under the direction of Tennessee State Historian Carroll Van West. For the next two years, the program is going under some changes with a major upgrade of its website. Currently, there is a cost-effective replacement for listing farms on a newly created “Tennessee Century Farms Program” page on Facebook. Just ‘like” the page and join in for some great information on Century Farms in our state.
If you have a possible Century Farm candidate, or want more information, you may call 615-898-2947. We promise a government man will not come out and ask you any questions.
Pettus L. Read writes for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
Some days, the news media finds it really difficult to come up with news. Of course, that is not always a bad thing, but the major problem with their inability to come up with actual factual news is that they have to make up something. For example, just today it was reported that the wallet would one day become a thing of the past. I’ve never spent many hours pondering on that subject, but just like those folks out in California attempting to do away with the plastic bag, I really don’t see that happening real soon.
Sure, there are now those who like those tight jeans and a wallet doesn’t work for them, but they are also the ones who are always asking us “husky” guys to borrow a dollar for their special diet waters because we have wallets in our “husky” jeans that you could choke a mule with. My wallet still contains the photo of some good-looking lady who came with the plastic picture holders when I bought my genuine artificial cowhide billfold. She’s not that good-looking anymore due to the imprint of my hunting license stamps rubbing on her face, but she does take up a space. The fact is, I still believe that news story was based on town folks and not those of us who keep a wallet as our mobile office filing cabinet out on the farm.
My father would clean his billfold out at least once every five years and then he would only change the location of us kids’ school pictures. I still have his billfold and it is the closest thing to opening King Tut’s tomb that you can find. It has feed mill tickets, a rabies shot tag for one of his favorite hounds, special drivers license for operating a school bus, insurance company calendar, Mama’s picture in the front, extra key to the tractor, numerous hunting schedules and four one dollar bills along with a lot of hay chaff. Every item in it was a necessity and he never left the house without it.
My grandfather was the very same way. He carried his in the button down pocket in the bid of his overalls. I can still see him unbutton that pocket to pull out that dark brown wallet to pay you after helping him with a farm chore. That instrument of financial recording, held close to the heart of the farmer in those days, could report the success of the year’s crop to the tax preparers and could also let you know how well the family budget was doing at the present time.
Men’s wallets have even been blamed for bad back problems. It is reported by a number of news groups that carrying a wallet in your back pocket can cause sciatica and can harm the lower back. It is suggested that you never sit on your wallet when you drive. A half-inch wallet is all it takes, they say, to cause some major back pain, and now a days, since we have changed out folding money to credit cards, the thickness of the wallet has put a strain on the back as well as the bank account. You can fix that however by getting rid of the jeans and go to overalls like my granddaddy and keep your wallet in the button down bid part. Overalls are more practical anyway. More pockets for stuff and a whole lot less confining.
With the development of credit cards and smartphones, I guess many of the things we at one time kept in a wallet are now being replaced. I’ve never had my wallet hacked, but it has had to dry out every now and then due to a hard day of work or the occasional rainstorm catching you in the back forty. I do admit my wallet has things in it that only I understand and get enjoyment from. The inside of a man’s wallet IS sort of like King Tut’s tomb. We do store what we consider our treasures in there and if you are lucky, on some days, there may even be some value there.
Once again, we approach that date on the calendar that many of us will always remember as one when we experienced feelings of fear, tragedy, total confusion, outrage and patriotism all in one day. September 11, 2001 for our generation will be like another generation’s Pearl Harbor, and as we approach the thirteenth anniversary of that date, I just hope it is not an omen of things to come.
I’ll never forget that sunny morning while driving to work on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, when my cell phone rang and I noticed on the digital screen that the call was coming from my home. Just having left only a few minutes earlier, my first thoughts were of what I had forgotten or what my wife was suggesting for me to purchase on my way home. Instead it was a call that changed us all for a very long time.
Of course, she was calling to tell me of the fire at the World Trade Center, and at that time only one tower had been damaged and the news reports were unclear as to what had happened. I hurried to my office and turned on the TV located in our communications area in time to see the second tower struck by another plane. By now, my office had filled with other employees staring in shock as news reports came in from Washington, D.C., New York City, Pennsylvania and other cities involved in the attacks against our country.
What had started as a beautiful, clear, usual day in the Volunteer State thirteen years ago had suddenly turned into one of the most shocking days of our lives. Terrorists had used commercial airliners as missiles to attack the United States of America. Even though not officially declared, we were at war.
One of the ladies in our office spoke with her elderly mother who was at home alone. Being concerned for her mother at a time like this, she asked her how she was doing after hearing all of the news reports. Her mother told her in a very shaky voice, “It reminds me of the day Pearl Harbor was attacked. The only thing was we did not have to watch the attack on television and see the people die.”
Those words sent a chill over me and probably will remain with me as a memory of that day forever. Just like the assassination of President Kennedy, November 22, 1963, I will always remember where I was and what I was doing. Like the elderly mother of my co-worker, the only difference of that event and the horror we saw September 11, is we did not watch it firsthand as it happened.
As I sat there watching the rescue efforts and the news reporters hurrying to the scene, I noticed a small wooden calendar I have on top of my office TV. The calendar is made of a series of wooden blocks that you change to form the date. I had changed the calendar for the day, which read 9-11. How appropriate that the date that this country will remember forever was the call numbers for help - 911.
I have had to use those numbers the last thirteen years myself. I’ve called for help when my father suffered a heart attack and died in my arms, as well as other times, and you never forget something like that. The fear that you have as you punch in those numbers is a fear that cannot be explained by words. As I sat helpless, watching the horror in New York that September day 13 years ago, that same fear appeared. A fear not only for those killed or injured, but also a fear for our country.
When the Japanese planes returned to their carriers after bombing Pearl Harbor, it is said that the commander of the Japanese fleet made the remark that he was afraid that what they had done would mean they would lose everything they had due to awakening a sleeping giant. I believe those terrorists who struck 9-11 awakened that giant once again thirteen years ago, but so often, giants have the habit of dozing off every now and then. I just hope it is not in the process of rubbing its eyes for a nap these days, but instead is wide awake and will always remember the day of 9-11.
The 911 numbers were called on that September day and we must never forget the fear we felt. That fear caused us to act and we are not through handling that 911 call. I hope you are still remembering 9-11 this month and continue to stand proud for our country in the days ahead. Never forget!
May God bless America and always keep her awake.
The other day as I pushed my grocery cart down the aisle of my favorite food store, I was stopped in my tracks as I approached the dairy case that held the brand of the whipped spread that goes on my toast and in my oatmeal each morning. There on the top of the blue and yellow container that holds my low-sodium, whipped buttery spread, which I have eaten for over six years due to my late wife’s orders, was printed a “non-GMO” pledge. The contents are already 64 percent vegetable oil and uses the words “buttery” on its label which is an insult to a dairy cow, but now they are going after my grain farmers just to peddle a few pots of something to make toast taste good without causing some of us to feel guilty about eating the jam we gob on it in the first place.
There has yet to be real good science about GMOs causing health problems and much of what you hear comes from the internet, along with a lot of advertising, to say some products don’t have it. Just to let you know, no commercially grown crops in this country were created by nature alone. We humans, over time, have altered all our crops in some way or the other for taste or yield, beginning all the way back there with Noah. We have always saved the best seeds or attempted to produce a higher producing plant to feed more people and modification has been the source from hybrids on up.
That afternoon as I changed my reach for the first time in six years from the yellow and blue carton over to some real dairy products to put on my toast, like I did growing up, I wondered what those folks at the blue tub plant would think about Wilson County farming hero and plant modifier William Haskell Neal who would have marveled at today’s GMO products.
To those of you who are not familiar with Tennessee history and especially agricultural history, Neal was the originator of the famous seed corn Neal’s Paymaster that revolutionized seed corn production for years. I’ve written about him before because he is a Tennessee hero just like Houston and Crockett. He was a farmer and experimented with a revolutionary idea of breeding seed corn by selecting seed only from two-eared stalks. The results of his experimentation resulted in increasing the corn yield of farmers amounting to millions of dollars. In 1919, it was estimated that Neal’s Paymaster corn added $2 million a year to the state of Tennessee’s economy. Neal’s Paymaster corn was an added income producer that was greatly needed in turn-of-the-century agriculture.
Almost a hundred years ago Neal did this, and who would have thought way back then that people would be receptive to an idea where someone could come up with a way to produce more food by changing the way we selected our seed. I guess with a hunger in the country and a deeper understanding of agriculture, the people in those days could see the need more so than we do today.
Neal got his idea for growing his new seed corn from reading an article in a farm paper about seed selection. Going over his fields, he found here and there a two-eared stalk, from which he carefully saved the bottom ear, as the article suggested. It took him ten years of discarding inferior types and keeping only ears with the deepest grains, slimmest cobs, and best-filled tips.
After five years of testing with the University of Tennessee, they sent back word that he had struck upon something unusual. He was told his variety would prove of great value to Tennessee farmers. “Well, that is what the farmers want,” Neal said as reported in the 1920 edition of the Southern Agriculturist magazine. “We don’t care how crooked the row, or how twisted the cob, so long as there is plenty of grain. It is quantity and quality we are after, not looks.”
The seed corn needed a name and it was Mrs. Neal who did just that. As reported in the Southern Agriculturist, Wilson County was famous for its fine horses and jack stock. The county had a famous colt called Paymaster, which had made one Jones family a lot of money. Mrs. Neal told her husband as they sat around the kitchen table, thinking of a name, “If this corn will pay its master as well as the Jones’ colt did, I don’t see where we could find a better name.” So was the creation of the name Neal’s Paymaster seed corn.
Back in 1919, our farmers were looking for quantity and quality in production. I know since all those many years ago, our health standards, our manufacturing, and yes, our agriculture has changed for the better in uncountable ways. I do know that I listen to real science before I make decisions about what I put on my toast and I believe Mr. Neal would have suggested that a “non-GMO pledge” on the blue package is somewhat of a twisted cob in the scheme of things.