Former farmstead memories

It was a saturated summer, and large portions of the pasture on the dairy farm I was renting were inundated. Had they a mind to do so, my Holsteins could have dogpaddled right over the submerged fence and strolled onto the adjoining highway. They might have then tried to thumb for rides except that they lacked thumbs.

This wouldn’t do, so I opted to construct a temporary electric fence on the shoulder of the highway. My wife, who was several months pregnant at the time, helped me string the wire.

“What was that noise?” she asked in a startled voice. I replied that I hadn’t heard anything. I chalked it up to extreme paranoia brought on by the extreme hormonal changes of pregnancy.

But then the noise — an unmistakable splashing sound — manifested itself a few feet from me. I swiftly identified the source of the commotion.

“Holy crap!” I exclaimed, “That’s a carp!”

That’s right: we had fish in our pasture. I decided to withhold this information from our landlord lest he raise the rent, saying that the carp were a form of value-added agriculture.

I had leased that farm in 1979 from an old guy named Frank. Frank was extremely profit-oriented, the kind of man who would claim that every penny in his pocket contained a nickel’s worth of copper.

The farm wasn’t much to brag about. Its dairy barn was a ramshackle affair that was sagging here and bulging there, not unlike many humans who have reached middle age.

What passed for a farmhouse sat at the end of the long driveway. The rundown shack had been haphazardly remodeled over the years and leaked air like a corncrib. I didn’t mention this to old Frank because he would have likely tried to hike the rent, claiming that the house featured a superior ventilation system.

But I didn’t care because renting that farm gave me my start in farming. I lived there for four eventful years. In the beginning I led the life of a Norwegian bachelor farmer, an era that ended when I met and married my wife. Our eldest son spent his first two years of life with us in that drafty old farmhouse.

On the plus side, the farmstead was located just minutes from downtown Brookings. This would prove to be the farm’s downfall.

Old Frank was becoming increasingly senile, so his banker son took over Frank’s business affairs. My wife and I were soon told that we needed to find a new place to operate because, as the son put it, “We’re going to turn that farm into houses.”

Motivated by looming homelessness, we scrambled until we found a way to continue dairy farming. Old Frank’s farm remained largely untouched for the next couple of decades.

The farm has undergone a dramatic transformation over the past several years. The hillside where the farmstead was located now bristles with sparkling new houses. There’s a stoplight at the end of the farm’s former driveway and a firehouse has been constructed across the road. A new elementary school is down the street.

Multistory apartment complexes that look as long as freight trains have sprouted in the field where I once grew corn. Even the eastern margins of the farm, which were prone to flooding – a deadwood log the size of a mature alligator once ran aground there during a summertime freshet – has been populated by houses and small businesses. This was accomplished by moving gigatons of dirt to transform that area of the farm from “floodplain” to “prime real estate.”

It’s ironic how developers tend to name streets after the things that they supplanted. There probably aren’t many goldenrods on Goldenrod Trail, and I doubt that any sweetgrass grows under the asphalt and concrete of Sweetgrass Drive.

No traces remain of the tumble-down farmstead where I started farming and my wife and I launched ourselves onto the uncharted seas of matrimony. Somewhere beneath one of those exquisitely groomed lawns lies the bones of Sam, the Blue Heeler dog whose life was cut short by the lightning kick of a Holstein steer.

I like to think about practicalities. The half-section of land that was once occupied by just two adults and a toddler is now home to hundreds of souls. This probably requires much more infrastructure than the farm’s shallow well and dyspeptic septic system.

I often have occasion to drive on the highway where my wife and I constructed that electric fence all those years ago. I’ve noticed that some areas of the pasture remain stubbornly underwater.

Change is the only constant. But despite all its changes, old Frank’s farm still holds fond memories of new beginnings.

— Jerry’s book, Dear County Agent Guy, is available at and in bookstores nationwide.

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