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young corn trying to grow in mud Gail Keck
NOT PRETTY: Waterlogged cornfields are presenting a grim picture for farmers this year.

What once was good can be so again

The Back 40: Sometimes the view on even the prettiest farm can get downright ugly.

Even though we live in a rustic farmhouse, my décor doesn’t look much like the rustic farmhouse décor pictured on Pinterest or in country home decorating magazines.

For one thing, I don’t have nearly enough furniture with chipped white paint. However, I did recently add a design element that gets me a little closer to those accepted standards. It’s a poster published in 1957 showing a picture-perfect Midwest farm scene. The colors of the illustration are still bright, while the ragged edges and worn folds in the paper give it enough distressed charm to fit the decorating ideal. Or maybe it just looks like an old piece of trash. I can’t be sure, but I like it anyway.

When the poster was printed, it showed an idealized version of a modern farm. Today, it is a nostalgic image of a farm that never was. Sure, at that time, some farms had diverse livestock enterprises, so the combination of cows, sheep, hogs, chickens, ducks, turkeys and horses isn’t out of the question.

But the cow nursing her calf in the middle of the driveway does not seem realistic. Especially since the collie dog is just lying there instead of herding her into the barn. It also seems odd that Mom and little Susie are ignoring the escaped cow and calmly feeding the chickens in their church shoes, while young Jimmy is riding his pony instead of helping Dad and the hired man put hay in the mow. Based on the wheat harvest going on in the background, it must be summertime in the picture — but somehow the corncribs in the barnyard are full, which seems unlikely for the time of year.

Reminders of good life amid tough times

I like the cheerful, optimistic view of farming the poster presents, but even the best of times on a farm are not that pretty. I’ve visited hundreds of Ohio farms — and although many are beautiful, I can’t think of one that didn’t have a weed patch, a junk pile or a dilapidated building somewhere.

Gail Keckdebris on fence

HIGH-WATER MARK: Debris draped on a pasture fence shows the unusual height of this spring’s flooding.

Sometimes, like this spring, the view on even the prettiest farm can get downright ugly. No matter what the décor, I can’t imagine anyone wanting a poster showing puddles on unplanted cropland, corn drowning in a waterlogged field, debris from floods hanging off pasture fences, storage structures full of manure that can’t be spread on saturated soil, or livestock being loaded up for sale because there won’t be enough forage to feed them.

I don’t have a magic solution for farmers who are struggling with this year’s weather, market challenges or other disasters. But maybe it helps to recall those better days from the past, even if we see them with unrealistic nostalgia. Those pretty pictures help us remember how good a life of farming life can be. And what once was good can be so again.

That’s not to say that changes won’t be necessary. Farmers have continually had to adapt to shifting consumer demands, market influences and government policies. But farmers have proven again and again that they can find a way forward.

We’ve seen disastrous years before — the drought of 1988 stands out in my memory. For some farms, things were never the same afterwards, but times did get better.

Times will get better this time, too.

Keck writes from her farm in Raymond, Ohio.

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