Sowing Seeds

Posted By on June 6, 2009

I really didn’t come from a gardening family.  Well, I mean… they had a yard, planted some flowers and cut the grass; but you couldn’t really call them gardeners. 

I, on the other hand have been a closet farmer for pretty much as long as I can remember.  I started a vegetable garden when I was around 9 years old and can recall raising roses and experimenting with splicing in some hope of creating an award winning hybrid.  I never did, and soon gave up roses for the greater payoff of tomatoes, zucchini and onions. 

It’s possible that I inherited my hidden “farmer gene” from my great grandfather.  He was a farmer, and while I have no real memory of him, I do remember vividly, walking his farm the day before they auctioned it off and secretly wishing my Dad would place a bid.  I could clearly see myself clad in overalls plowing the fields of the old family farm with a mule team by day and whittling on a big front porch at night. 

I spent the better part of my youth harboring these romantic notions of simple farm life and self reliance.   While other kids played baseball I could be found living out nostalgia on local farms with “old timers” six times my age; listening to their stories and searching every conversation for a nugget of information.  I like to think that it was on these farms, which dotted the fledgling suburb of Northern Kentucky like little time capsules that I got my education.  Farms, that were rusting relics in a growing community that would soon fade away into oblivion, were to me; experiential frontiers, living books from which I could not be pulled.  

The Thirs Farm was one such remnant of yesteryear.  Paul, Walt and Bob Thirs were three brothers, bachelors all, who had grown up and worked on that family dairy farm for as long as anyone else in the community could remember.  The Thirs farm was where we got our milk, along with some homegrown produce when it was season.  We would drive up the long driveway to a small cinderblock building that sat, nestled in a cluster of other sheds, barns and coops, with our empty glass milk bottles and exchange them for full.  There never seemed to be a time when you couldn’t find the “Thirs Boys” (which is how they were referred) sitting in that milk room around a cast-iron potbellied wood burner, chewing tobacco, spitting into the coal scuttle, reminiscing and selling fresh milk.   During the summer and fall they’d sell off vegetables and homemade apple cider, squeezed from the apples in their orchard in a large wooden press.  They were a unique feature of my hometown and one that had an enormous impact on my life.

What began as permission to fish in their pond eventually turned into carte blanche access for hunting, trapping, camping or just curious exploration.  I spent as much time as I could on that farm; helping out, listening to their stories, wandering the fields and “hollers”, or poking through a bone yard of old farm tools.  I had exclusive run of the farm, a virtual panoply of adventure, a unique and secret class room brimming with opportunity which was all mine. 

When I was about 16, the “Boys” gave me a plot of land to grow a garden.  I can’t really remember if I asked or if they offered but either way I found myself the proud owner of my very own piece of farm.  I was heading for the big time now, and this wasn’t a little garden plot like I had been tinkering with before; this was a full acre to do with what I pleased.  I was also given free rein to all the tools of the trade which included the old Massey Ferguson tractor, a plow and disks. 

Donning my overalls, and armed with a red bandanna, farmer’s almanac and a pouch of Red Man; I took to the field early one spring to stake my claim.  I soon learned that while callused, hard worked hands seemed like a romantic idea in my mind they actually hurt pretty damn bad.  However, I was ambitious and filled that acre with tomatoes, beans, onions, peppers, corn, squash and a myriad of other leafy and rooty things. 

As I wiped my brow and pumped some cold water from the well into a tin ladle; Bob, the oldest of the three who rarely spoke, informed me that I had only planted a half acre.  “The full acre is over to that fence.” He mumbled, as he spit a brown stream of tobacco juice onto the ground.

So, it was back to the fields and back to work.  Of course now I was out of seeds and starters so what could I fill a half acre of fertile Kentucky soil with?  Tobacco!  My pal Dewey had an uncle with a tobacco farm which we periodically worked on for extra money.   He gave me a bunch of tobacco sets so that I could try my hand at a real Kentucky cash crop.  I planted them and they took off like wildfire.  I really had no idea what I was going to do with all that tobacco but I had fun picking off tobacco worms, topping it, cutting and hanging it a corner of the Thirs’ barn to dry. 

That first summer I had far more produce than I knew what to do with and can remember hauling it in bushel baskets to Church every Sunday to pawn it off onto whoever would have it.   The tobacco hung, forgotten and alone, drying in that barn until it crumbled into dust and blew away.

In the following years I reduced the size of my ambitions a little but continued to raise a garden until I was almost out of high school.  Once I was in college my farming days were put on hold but I never forgot that little farm and the time spent and adventures had there. 

Today, that farm, those three brothers and my open classroom live only in memory.  

The property was eventually sold to make way for the growing suburb, is now called Thirs Landing and you could live there for about $250,000 if you’d like.  I never drive past there without thinking about Paul, Walt and Bob and the farm I called my own.   It was there on that farm where the seeds were sown for a lifetime of learning.  Not from books, tests and lectures but from connections made and experiences lived. 

There were other farms where I had similar experiences but non which held quite as much charm as the Thirs farm.  Of course… I haven’t told you about Pete’s Garage yet…

“Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire.” W.B. Yeats

We’ve had some unusually warm weather this past week.  Quite a departure from the 2 feet of snow and upper teens I was greeted with.  It’s been so nice, that Sarah and Mabby (our camp cook) resurrected the garden I started last summer.  As I watched Sarah digging in the soil I was glad that seeds were being sown and all the world is her classroom. 


Mabby and Sarah preparing the garden plot at Rockhaven.

farmers market

Sarah tending Mabby’s baked good booth at the Bozeman Farmer’s Market.

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"Education is not the filling of a pail but a lighting of a fire". W.B. Yeats


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