“Echoes of old farms and canals still linger along the byways if you know where to look and listen.”
The Dictionary for New Farmers, 1st edition.
According to a report I just read, over 11 million acres of farmland in the United States were lost between 2001 and 2016. As farming becomes more of a large-corporate endeavor that focuses on efficiency and maxim-izing production, the small family-owned farm is slowly disappearing.
Although some believe that our food supply is as safe as it ever has been, I feel we are slowly losing a part of our country’s soul that made us what we are today. In the early 1900s, the majority of Americans lived in rural areas where the small family farm was ever present.
From stories that have been passed down in my family, conversations I have had with many an old farmer, and biographies I have read, those small family farms taught values of compassion and morality that some-times seem hard to find today. Farm living was a lifestyle that created em-pathy for one’s neighbors and the expectation that when help was need-ed, help was to be given, no matter the burden.
During the past year, my wife and I have decided to write a musical stage production based on the Hocking Canal, which once passed through our town of Logan, Ohio. As with the many small family farms that no longer exist, one can still see echoes of the canal’s passage, although most areas have been filled in or torn down long ago by “progress.”
Similar to the small family farm, living and working on the canal was a life-style. Families grew up on canal boats where a good day’s progress was measured by the number of miles one managed per day – usually about 15. Life was slower and time drifted by at the speed of a mule’s walking pace.
In 1840, the Hocking Canal was completed south to Nelsonville. In 1841, it was opened to and from Athens. In 1890, the last canal boat carried a load of coal from Nelsonville to Logan and an era ended
The canal was a victim of progress and more rapid transportation by the railroads. One can argue the positive benefits of the canal as one can the small farm. When it opened, the canal increased the amount of money the farmer could get for his produce and kept railroad shipping prices lower by providing competition. After the canal closed, railroad prices did substan-tially increase, as I suspect might happen when we have fewer family farms and have more acreage owned by a limited number of mega corpo-rations.
A friend recently sent me a poem by Robert Frost entitled, “The Tuft of Flowers.” As with many poems, its verses feel like the layers of an onion — the more you read, the more subtle meanings one uncovers. It is a poem of another time. It is the story of two farm workers, the first of whom you never meet.
As the poem begins, the second worker, who is the writer of the poem, comes to turn the hay the first farm worker has cut down earlier with his scythe. It has been some hours since the grass has been cut and the se-cond farm worker never meets the one who cut the hay. The writer ends up coming to an understanding of the nature of the first worker by discov-ering, in the middle of the cut field, a single tuft of flowers left untouched. This tuft of flowers was not left for any monetary reason or purpose of effi-ciency. It was not left because of the first worker’s oversight. But, by being preserved, it did tell the nature of the mower. He left the tufts of grass for the butterflies and bees he knew would visit the field that day.
Our nature, as a people, is ultimately defined by what we leave behind. By burying our past with “progress,” we run the risk of gradually losing those things that define us. The Hocking Canal is now in our distant past and few remnants remain. I can only hope that, like the canal, the small family farm will not pass into obscurity and its values forgotten.
On June 19, during the Washboard Festival in Logan, the Logan Theater will have the theater building open for public tours. Come visit the second and third floors, which have been renovated and are beautiful! The final push and fundraising will be for the first floor and the main auditori-um/theater. We are hoping to present the musical in its entirety when the first floor and main theater are complete.
If you miss those days when we had family activities in downtown Logan, please consider donating to the Logan Theater renovation project at lo-gantheater.org. Visit that website for more information.
Four scenes from the musical “The Last Canal Boat” will be presented on the third floor of the Logan Theater at 4 p.m. and again at 5 p.m. on June 19. Hopefully, this short excerpt of the play will help spark the fond memo-ries of our county and encourage us as a community to work together to make Logan a vibrant hometown once more.
Jeff and Kathy Crisler own a farm in Hocking County where they raise bees, berries and blisters. They are both retired and have two children and six grandchildren. Jeff wrote this column to be published in The Logan Daily News. The views of this column may not necessarily reflect that of the newspaper.