Friday, December 03, 2004

You Been Farming Long?

If you grew up in the Midwest, you know that phrase. If you ever received a Miles Kimball catalog, you know what I'm talking about. If you've ever dined in a roadside cafe, had a relative who owned an oil rain lamp, or drunk your beer with tomato juice in it, you've seen the poster in question, and you fail to be tired of it, even now.

Here is the story of the Little Farmers, two 18-month-olds dressed in their OshKoshes, looking for all the world like the two guys you see down at the elevator while their loads are being weighed. It's a great shot. I laughed the first time I saw it, when I must have been seven, and I still laugh now when I see it, 25 years later.

I am not raising Little Farmers. We live a farmhouse, and have a barn and a silo and a little bit of land, but we're not doing much with it yet, even though John went to school today in an IH tractor t-shirt. But my kids aren't city people, that's for sure.

I listen to NPR in the car with the kids (Air America Radio is hard to pick up where we are), and I often wonder how much John hears and what he thinks about the news. About two years ago, after hearing a story about a murder in Minneapolis, John piped up from the back seat, "Mama, what's a drug house?" He hasn't asked about gay marriage yet, which surprises me.

Yesterday, on the way to the grocery store, NPR ran a story on soybean rust. The story was produced well -- it had a bit where someone from the university was trying to confirm rust in a soybean field. I can't remember what state it was -- Georgia or Alabama, maybe, something southern -- but it had the farmer there too, asking what the hell he was supposed to do now, now that he had rust.

The story started wrapping up, when John asked from the back seat: "Mom, do you think our field has soybean rust?"

The field behind us is not our field, but we love it like it is. We watch to see what the farmer plants in the spring, and rejoice when the crop comes up. We stay inside on the day he sprays and watch the plants to make sure they're healthy. This year, the farmer planted soybeans.

"No, I don't, sweetheart."

"How do you know?"

"Because the story said the rust is found in only nine states, and they were all in the south."

"Do you think maybe someday it might get rust?"

"Well, the story said that rust is moving north, and maybe in a year or two it might be up here. It overwinters on the back of the leaves."

"What's overwinters?"

And so on. Having just listened to the story (a little more attentively than John did), I was an instant expert on soybean rust.

"What does it look like? How do you know it's there?"

"Well, the story said it looks like a pustule --"

"What's a --"

"-- which is like a pimple, like a mark on your skin --"

"Like chicken pox!"

"Yes! Exactly! And the spores, which are like little pieces of dust, poke out the top of the pustule, like a --"

"Like a volcano! That's why he was talking about a volcano!"

Satisfied, he sat back in his booster seat. Then he said ruefully, "I hope our field doesn't get rust."

"You been farming long?" I asked him in my head.

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