The Farm on the North Talbot Road

The Farm on the North Talbot Road

The Farm on the North Talbot Road

The Farm on the North Talbot Road

Synopsis

As the family farm of yesterday steadily loses ground to the corporate farm of tomorrow, pundits and plain folks alike bemoan the loss of the homely, down-to-earth rural life that few actually know or remember anymore. Allan G. Bogue is a notable exception. A legendary agricultural, political, and economic historian, and one of only three historians ever elected to the National Academy of Sciences, Bogue has for the last fifty years written about the political and economic forces shaping agriculture. And he himself has roots in the family farm--roots he traces in this memoir that is both a thoughtful tribute to the tradition that nurtured him and North America and an authentic, unsentimental portrait of the hard life that most have abandoned. Through descriptions of neighborly good will, adverse climate, charismatic family relations, and the seasonal tasks demanded by dairy farming, Bogue imparts the rhythms of growing up in rural Ontario in the early years of the twentieth century. Tracing the family's fortunes through the ups and downs of the economy in the 1920s and 1930s, he draws an absorbing picture of how they and their neighbors farmed, the crops they raised, the livestock they kept, the technology they used, and the stresses, strains, frustrations, sadness, joy, and triumphs they experienced. Firsthand history of a rare and moving sort, his book is at once an elegy for a disappearing way of life and a deftly realized, meticulously reconstructed chapter of North American history.

Excerpt

In this book I have tried to describe how we did things on an Ontario farm during the 1930s. I have not tried to write an autobiography or detail the growing pains that I experienced while I moved through my early and middle teens. Nor did I wish to write a family history. When completed, my account contained elements of all of these things. But livestock husbandry and market gardening and the impact of the depression of the 1930s upon our farm life provide the book’s central focus. Some readers may wish to know our family and our neighbors somewhat better than the first two chapters allow by reading chapter 9, “Neighborhood and Family,” before meeting the Holsteins, experiencing the joys of picking tomatoes, and rattling off to market as described in chapters 3–8. Others may be more interested in the story line than in the specifics of herd management and agricultural prices detailed in the two appendixes.

But why devote a book to so ordinary a thing as a family farm? As a history teacher at the University of Iowa and the University of Wisconsin, Madison, I was lucky enough to become acquainted with a number of the young economic historians who were creating a “new economic history” between the mid-1950s and the late 1970s. During those years I attended symposia and professional meeting panels in which these scholars discussed their work and responded to the questions and criticisms of members of the audience. They were particularly intrigued by the institution of slavery in the American South, and argument often centered upon the details of daily agricultural practice as well as upon the broader issues of profit and loss, regionalism, and mortality. These researchers and their critics discovered a surprisingly broad array of source materials that yielded information about the peculiar institution. Some also found that firsthand contemporary experiences and observations were an invaluable part of the whole if we were to fully understand the problems and challenges that the . . .

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