Tuesday, 6 July 2021

Progress?

 

There is a sense of gaiety in the camaraderie of country folk. Collective effort creates bonds that otherwise would be absent. How many marriages have been initiated by the collective (mixed-sex) heaving of wheat sheaves, or the gathering of grapes. How many small farms have been expanded by the linking of families, and the joining of lands.

But, when the sharing of tasks is no longer there, and neighbours no longer pool their resources to bring in the crops, that feeling of community is lost, and people become insular. They no longer 'hammer-out' their problems; they discuss within families and their accusing fingers always point at others. Feuds can easily split close neighbours, and rivalry takes precedence over where once there was friendship.

The natural urge to help one's neighbours was what helped keep small rural communities together. X helped Y, then in turn Y helped X; it was always thus.

Life was like this 47 years ago when I first moved to my small village. As soon as the hay was baled we all met in the fields, and it was brought inside before nightfall; this could never have been done alone. When the grapes were ripe, we all arrived with our baskets, and without prompt, we got on with the job. Once the juice was all inside the huge oak vats, Madame Farmer provided a generous meal at the end of a hard day's work.

Since those days Tractors have taken over much of the work; where once the was a 'Pony' (top photo), now there is a monster (below). No man with a pitchfork can lift one of today's big round bales onto a trailer.

Tractors naturally increased in size, their costs became exorbitant, and hay is now cut and baled by machines that cost a fortune, rather than by a few neighbours who gathered to do the work amidst laughter and friendship. 

Many fields now remain dormant; occasionally being mowed by those huge tractors for the sake of tidiness. Who needs to grow crops, when they can be delivered from Spain at half the price?

Now I see once busy farmers wandering around their farms, with little to do but check that their 'Single Farm Payment' has arrived from Brussels. The huge tractors remain unused, but still need to be paid for. The more attractive farmhouses become holiday homes for rich Parisians, and the land used for ponies, golf courses, or simply for admiring. The camaraderie has all but gone.

The children of small farmers no longer wish to follow the plough, they were brought-up on a diet of Hollywood films, documentaries from exotic locations, and the promise of urban wealth and glamour. Why would they wish to remain at home and watch all around them deteriorate; big cities beckon, and the arrivals are mostly young, expectant, wide-eyed, country folk.

Life has dealt a serious blow to country people, and country practices. Young 'liberals' are now more likely to discuss the rights of trans-sexuals, than to care about where the wheat is grown for their burger bun. Our priorities seem to have become muddled, and life is no better for it.

I have just been watching my neighbour Claude, down in the valley, driving his long trailer to where his big round hay bales are, unlink the trailer, collect the bales with the two spikes on the front of his tractor, place them all carefully on the trailer, and drive back home again; all done alone. If he'd still had the much smaller rectangular bales, I'd have been down there at once. A very sad sight.


26 comments:

  1. We've lived in several rural areas across the U.S. It IS sad to watch the steady march of "progress." Something increasingly rare and precious is lost, as you described perfectly.

    We'll soon move to an even more remote area (in AZ) surrounded on 3 sides by tribal land and on the other by mountains. It's unlikely to change much in the rest of my lifetime. One can hope.

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    1. I've just noticed that my neighbour only collected a few of his big bales last night. They've been sitting there for over a month in the rain. This is not progress; just a terrible shame. He is one of very few local farmers who keeps Cows (11); most farmers now have no animals at all.

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  2. Progress can be a double edged sword. The loss of community spirit, tradition and sometimes beauty in return for less hardship or manual effort?

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    1. It certainly hasn't improved life here. There are fields everywhere that are just left doing nothing, rather like their owners.

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  3. I grew up on a Yorkshire farm and I remember days when friends and neighbours arrived to help with the harvest or threshing. They’d start with a breakfast of home cured ham and huge pots of tea in our kitchen. By the time he retired my brother was running the place single handed, the sale of his machinery raised hundreds of thousands.

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    1. I'm sure your memories are much like mine of just 47 years ago here. No comparison to life today.

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  4. A wonderful post. My late uncle farmed in those days of communal work. He had a sense of humour that grew out of those times. He he never failed to mock my beard and could say decidedly non-PC things. Many of the 'liberals' you mention would be instantly outraged and offended, but it wasn't malicious he was one of the funniest people I've ever known.

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    1. Light-hearted banter was part of life, and was never intended to be malicious. You really have to watch your words these days; just look at all those miserable 'liberals'.

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    2. Hey...I'm told I am one of those liberals!

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  5. The EU CAP failed the small farmer and encouraged only large scale farming in terms of hectares and cereal production. By the time the EU realised it needed to help the small farmer, some 15 years after the introduction of the CAP, it was too late and the small farmer had all but disappeared, fruit and vegetables once grown around your area were being imported from around the world and the face of farming as you describe had disappeared. The CAP is the EU Common Agriculatural Policy for anybody not familiar with the EU and farming.

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    1. I see the results of the CAP on a daily basis. I once heard that Brussels had designated S W France, and the whole of Spain, as mostly holiday areas. They've certainly made a mess of things.

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  6. Yes Cro but as the widow of one of those farmers I can only say that backs are not as painful, nobody goes to bed dog tired, and they all have an easier life. Another rhing which has lessened the cameraderie amongst farmers is the closure of so many small Auction Marts. We are still lucky to have one here but I wonder for how much longer.

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    1. I truly think that a lot of our local farmers would keep that tiredness, in exchange for the friendship they once had.

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  7. We can regret and rue, but that was the past and we need to adapt to the new, for better or worse. I grew up on a dairy farm and while there wasn't a lot of cooperation between neighbours, if grass was freshly cut for hay and rain threatened, it was all neighbours on deck for whoever needed help with raking and baling, including the volunteer use of expensive machinery.

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    1. Getting the hay inside was always a moment of great fun and friendship, I can even remember putting Lady M on a tractor and saying 'just keep going in a straight line'. She was petrified!

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  8. A lament for changing times and in my estimation, well-considered. Regarding carbon footprints, global warming and all that, it seems to me that the old farming methods were far less injurious to our planet. Maybe I am just a sentimental fool but I still mourn the destruction of thousands of miles of ancient hedgerows where birds fed and nested and hedgehogs and adders made their homes.

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    1. No-one had thought of Global Warming, or Carbon bloody Footprints when life was more human scaled. As for Hedgerows, we have neither Hedges nor Stone walls here; just electric fences. I have never understood why!

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  9. More would be with you , I am sure. The ones of age to remember such times.

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    1. I suppose I could be accused of belonging to another age, but even though it was more simple, I still think it was better.

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    2. I am 62 and remember all those things.

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  10. I was with you, Cro, right up to the round bales. I don't miss haying at all. The hay rash, and the exhaustion of hefting heavy bales in the hot sun, sunburns.

    ! We have a community rototiller at my sister's equipment long shed. We bought it a few years back. Whoever needs it just drives their tractor down and hooks it up. We share labor on removing beaver dams, or building projects, or getting firewood. But hay baling? Nope. Round bales. Viva the round bale.

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    1. I must admit that I really used to enjoy hay-making when we still had the manageable sized rectangular bales. A girl tractor driving, me heaving them up, and someone else arranging them on the trailer, it was pure teamwork. There were usually two teams, whilst one was unloading in the barn, the other collected. Hard work, but very enjoyable.

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  11. That old tractor was rather a little beauty! I know nothing about life on the land except for some cousins who lived on a remote property that were always dealing with the typical Australian biblical-scaled natural disasters of flood, drought, mouse-plague etc. I can't recall if their neighbours were close enough or did ever help with things. They were a tough branch of the family!

    You've certainly been witness to some change. The return to bucolic idylls draws some dreamers to shift to the country but I wonder if the new breed of escapees to the country, trying to go off-grid and self-sufficient, will be able to manage to get on without having any farming neighbours ready or willing to help when they need it?

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    1. Pairs of rose-tinted glasses are selling like hot cakes these days, but sadly they very soon become misted. This idyll of country life, with Alpacas in the paddock, and happy holiday makers converted outbuildings, all sounds very tempting, but it often doesn't last more than a year or two.

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  12. I sent my childhood on a small farm, smallholding if you will. My grandparents had few cows (5 or 6) and their calves. They had some forest (which I own now) and some fields. They barely made their living. We didn't have hay bales in the early 70's, we made hay stacks, and straw was collected for animal bedding. I learnt to drive a tractor like you had in that first picture, there was even few work horses when I was a kid. Farmers had all been in fights of WW2, most of them wounded in some way ( my grandpa lost only half of his hearing). Later on when old horses died, there was only tractors. Farmer gave up their cattle, there's no farm animals left at all now, and one farm left. The remaining farmer is a young one, under 30 and he has three sons already. But no more hay stacks, just those gigantic plastic covered bales! Oh the first bales were those rectangular ones, I could lift they myself, and by that time I was under 12, I was in much better shape then.
    Now tractors are driven by GPS and computers, and cows are milked by robots (but they still have a name each, and farmers know them by their name), and combine harvesters are 9m wideđŸ˜± my grandparents treshing machine had no wheels and wheat and oat had to be hand fed to it.
    It is kind of sad thing those old days are no longer here, but it is also a relief for farmers. Life is much easier, money is still more that hard to get and their work is never done. And others always know better how things should be done!
    I got slightly emotional this week when I saw how good hay harvest was this year. And rectangular hay bales were back! A much bigger ones, but anyway. A good hay year gives a promise of easier winter.

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