Saturday, August 15, 2009

Where Did All The Farmland Go?

My grandfather bought a cottage up near Lexington, Michigan (right on the banks of Lake Huron) back in 1956. Since he died in 1972, the place was passed to his son (my father) and now my brother and his wife own it. It's still in the family and the rest of us are always welcome to go up, which is good because from my birth through just a few years ago I went up virtually every weekend from mid-May through early October.
The drive up I-94 was always one of my favorite parts of the whole cottage experience: the anticipation - knowing that the sunny day ahead would be great beach weather followed by an evening bonfire and nighttime walk; the music from the radio or tape player as we drove up - oldies were always fun, but country was always my just seem to fit. Songs like Judy Rodman "Until I Met You," Gail Davies "Grandma's Song," Iris Dement "Our Town," and even John Denver's "Back Home Again." The reason why pure country music (yes, the twangy stuff) worked so well on the ride up was because of my favorite part of the experience: the city-to-country scenery. Once you past the City of Mt. Clemens, farmland ensued, and didn't end until you reached the edge of the city of Port Huron 40 miles later. In between was nothing but trees and farms. Every-so-often you would see a farmer out on his tractor or working the plow. Horses and cows were always grazing in the open. And, at night, it was beautiful to see the lights of the farmhouses peek out of the pitch-blackness that surrounded them. And it always amazed me the amount of land that the farmers worked. Just acres and acres until the next piece of property.

Anyhow, this morning, with the temps promising to reach 90 degrees, we decided to take a ride up to the cottage for swimming and visiting family members that I don't see too often. Now, I still travel up there a few times a year, just going through the motions that I've driven hundreds of times before. But today, for the first time in a long time, I noticed the scenery around me as I passed Mt. Clemens. OK. One mile. Two miles. Three. Four. Five miles out of the city and yet there was still no farms. I did, however, see new subdivisions, shopping plazas, individual stores, factories, sports bars...we were quite a ways north of Mt. Clemens and yet...where were "my" farms? Where once there were many, now we only saw two - maybe three - barns and homesteads. The city - this blight on country life - has encroached upon one of the few simple pleasures many of us unfortunate city dwellers look forward to seeing.
It has always been a dream of my wife and mine to live in a small town or out in the country. Patty has said repeatedly (and now, so does my daughter) that she wants to live on a farm. She reads some of the writings of my blogger friends (see Pastoral Symphony Farm for a fine example) and finds herself living vicariously through them.
Unfortunately, that life is not going to happen for us anytime in the near future. So, a drive out to the country would satisfy our want for a short while, much in the same way that Greenfield Village, Crossroads Village, and Civil War reenacting satisfies our want of 'time-traveling.'
And now, the urban jungle is taking over the farms that I enjoyed seeing so often.
Why? Did the owners lose their land? Did they get an offer they couldn't refuse? Did banks force them out?
I guess no matter the reason for the disapearance of these scenes of Americana, I am really bummed out about it. Even with all the garbage going on in this world with obama and terrorists etc., I'm still depressed about losing 'my' farms.
And I don't feel fine...


Mrs. G said...

There's a book called "After The Fire" that details the destruction of farmland in Lancaster County, PA it's a good but depressing read.

We know a farmer (actually we know a lot of them) who sold his farm a few years back, they will sell the farm as lots and then as a whole and which ever way brings the most money is how it sells. It will almost always sell in lots. Here, farmland sells for $10,000 an acre, he got 2,000,000 for the land that doesn't count machinery etc. He was never a rich farmer but he was rich then. It's the bittersweet truth that the only people who can afford the land are those that don't "need" to farm it. In some ways we feel "trapped" here, not enough land to do it right but not well off enough to buy anything better.

Today was in the 90's with sky high humidity and I was envying you with your AC, lol.


Historical Ken said...

Thanks Paris -
I will search out the book used on Amazon.
You want to feel trapped? Try living where I do - a half mile outside of Detroit. Depressing...
My wife and I had an interesting conversation this afternoon about our future. We both agree we need to leave here and move to a rural community.
Now to make the attempt to put that into action.
And to have the nerve...
Air-conditioning? What's that? No A/C here, believe me. Never had it and probably never will.
By the way, one day I'd love to hear your story on how you and your husband came to live where and how you do. It might help to light the fire under OUR behinds!
As always, thanks for writing!