Survival of the Fittest

I was channel surfing looking for things to watch on TV, and I came across a show about Preppers. Preppers are people who are preparing themselves for some major disaster, like the complete collapse of government or society, or an environmental disaster that results in needing to survive by going back to the basics of growing their own food and eating whatever animals are available. This particular show was focused on living off the land by hunting, gathering and growing their own food. It piqued my interest, so I watched for a while as they talked on about their preparations. Well it did not take long to realize this was a group of city dwellers who were now trying to guess how they would survive off of the land by growing their own food and hunting and preserving that food.

It was a lot of theory as opposed to any type of experience. I don’t want to judge them on how to prepare, but to me as a farm girl from Pierz who grew up in the 1960’s and 70’s, anyone who IMG_1737grew up on the farm will have all of the skills necessary to survive. Our farm was like many others in that area.   We raised chickens, hogs, cattle and crops. We had a large garden and fields for the animal feed. We had some cows for beef and we always had two cows for milk. We made butter from the cream and my mom could make cottage cheese. It was a very self sufficient operation.

One of the things that seemed to be missing in the “Preppers” show was to learn the skills to utilize all of the crops and the animals year round. Granted it was a short show, but growing vegetables is not that hard; preserving vegetables so you have them all year takes some knowledge and practice. My Mom could can any fruits and vegetables. Also, butchering of animals is a learned skill and not wasting IMG_1739takes practice. We ate almost every part of the animals, so there was little waste. We ate the tongue, heart, tail and made head cheese. Yup, don’t ask. It is actually made from parts of the pig head, but it is surprisingly delicious! My kids don’t think so, but being adventurous as they are, they did try it.

Even as kids we had to help butcher chickens and help with the feeding of all animals and giving them medicine. There was not a lot done on the farm without everyone’s help. Grandpa and IMG_1744grandma came over when any big butchering or harvesting was done, and all the kids did what they could to help, depending upon age. Grandma always brought a big batch of homemade donuts, that were fried in lard of course, when she came for anything. We loved them. You probably would die early if you ate too many, because they were fried in lard, but it was worth it. They were delicious!

I have also eaten wild meats of every kind. I saw them eating squirrel on the show Duck Dynasty and had to laugh because we ate squirrel one time to taste it and we quite frequently ate rabbit. Rabbit was a quick growing and quick breeding stock and my grandpa raised them and it was a IMG_1745great source of protein, and they tasted good too.

I was in college when I went to visit a friend and her husband. While I was eating the delicious stew they served, the husband, in a very matter of fact way, announced that the stew was made with wood chuck. The wood chuck had been eating his garden, so he ate the wood chuck. I had no problem eating wood chuck. It was delicious.

In our area people hunted raccoon, deer, bear and every kind of bird.   Many of us also trapped. IMG_1740My brother and I actually had a trap line in the winter that we checked every morning before school. We were in High school at the time. We made some extra money that way and learned some skills. On the farm you learned to fix anything with what you had. You did not run to town for every little nut, bolt or piece of wood. You made due and got the job done. You threw little away and many things were used and reused. We built fence and rode horse. We swung in the barn and learned to watch the weather to know when to cut the hay. We knew how to bake pie with the apples from the trees and make jam from the berries we picked in the fence line. We were good to the animals and we did not kill for pure sport or fun. We used the meat of anything we killed as humanely as possible.

IMG_1741The term “simple farmer” has always bothered me. There is nothing simple about them. These are people with amazing skills and abilities who are constantly finding ways to grow more food for our growing and demanding needs as a population.   In any survival scenario, for the best chance at survival, I would pick the farmers every time.

The Duck Dynasty guys, while entertaining, have nothing on those of us who lived or still live on a working farm in rural Minnesota. The Preppers have some good theories and ideas, and you have to applaud them for trying, but these skills that rural farmers actually lived cannot be duplicated by reading about it or talking about it. The actual hands on experience give those from the farm an instant level of competence and confidence.

Some people may be embarrassed to admit they ate tongue and heart. I have always embracedIMG_1738 my past and appreciate the skills that were handed down to us on the farm. It was a gift that not all are lucky enough to have lived. The diversity and variety of life skills that we have from our experiences on the farm are irreplaceable. We learned our work ethic, confidence in our own abilities, respect for the earth and its bounty and most importantly, problem solving skills. Farmers have been working together as families and neighbors for years to accomplish tasks. There is no group that is better prepared, who could survive and thrive if a disaster occurs, and most importantly, farmers are also the best at looking after their neighbors. These are real people with real skills.

My Mom Has Skills

My mom is one of the most competent people I know. She has never been afraid to try anything, and in any situation, she always seems to know what to do. Even though she is in her eighties, she can work her cell phone to text her children and grandchildren, and she can even send pictures. She is on Facebook and can navigate her computer better than many people who are a lot younger than her. She has really kept up with the new technology.

19dWhen I was growing up, she sewed our clothes on the farm, kept a clean house, and could bake the best bread and pie. She cared for the farm animals and her family as if she had advanced medical training. My brother once dislocated his shoulder playing Tarzan in the big barn, and when he came screaming into the house she grabbed his arm and snapped the shoulder back into place and he went back to playing. Growing up we believed she could do anything.

She has many talents, but she has always had a knack for caring for both babies and animals. After I had my first baby, she came to help me within a few hours of our return home from the hospital. Even though I had been a Labor and Delivery nurse for seven years, the baby and I were both crying within an hour of being home. Between hormones and exhaustion, I really needed her. She barely had her coat off and she sent me for a nap, while she rocked my baby to sleep. I invited her into the operating room with my husband and me for the c-section birth of my third child. We have always 2been close.

She is legendary with my kids when it comes to animals. They know she kills spiders with her bare hand and is not afraid of anything. My kids tell the story of one particular Thanksgiving at our house. Mom and Dad were there, and lots of relatives. The house was full and loud with pre-dinner activities. The kids were pre-teen and running around playing.  While setting the table and cooking the meal, the kids accidentally let the parakeet out of its cage. It was a mild mannered bird, except if you tried to hold it. Then it was a crazy biter and they referred to it as birdzilla. They were afraid of it. Mom suggested that the kids just pick it up and put it back in its cage. They were insistent that one could not touch it, because it was a biter. My mom just laughed and told them it’s just a little bird, as she swept it up so quickly the bird did not have time to fly or know what happened. To the surprise of everyone, she had it in one hand with its little head between two fingers. The kids were in awe as she did not flinch; while it was biting her all the way back to the cage. She just talked to it in a soothing voice.

When we were growing up on the farm she cared for our farm animals, and taught us to help as we got older. She tended a large garden and we grew a lot of our own food. She was the one who almost always said yes to our pet requests. She brought home a little baby house dog for us when we were very young, and we all agreed on the name Sparky, with her help.

IMG_0764She brought him home and set him on the floor with us, as we sat around in a circle. I think I was only about three at the time and my sister was six and my brother was five. She told us to be very gentle and she showed us how to pet our new puppy, so as not to hurt it. She was such a good teacher. Giving us the knowledge and know how to take care of him and yet not hurt him, even if it was by accident. She showed us how to put a mother cat at ease by petting her and talking calmly to her, reassuring her that it was OK for Mom to hold her kittens and show them to us. Animals were at ease with her.

50aA few years later she let us get a larger outdoor farm dog when our cousin’s dog had puppies. We were convinced that the one puppy wanted to go home with us after playing with them. She made sure we were responsible to feed him. Forgetting to feed him and give him water was not an option. She made it clear that the animals depend upon us. We ended up being very close to that dog. He was never more than a few feet away from us as we played on the farm.

She and my dad still fish a lot in their boat, and she has learned to run their GPS and fish finder with great ease. She can even trouble-shoot and change settings as she needs to, depending on the lake they are on. She is good at fishing and loves traveling. She and dad have been everywhere in their RV, and she has been the navigator for them through mountains and in large cities.IMG_0394

My mom was as strict as she needed to be, to keep us from getting into trouble and making sure we did well in school and respected our elders. I distinctly remember my mom sending my brother and me out to weed the corn field after she caught us shooting homemade bows and arrows at the playhouse door while our sister was inside. She came and got us after an hour or so and made us promise never to do anything that dangerous again. She had to deal with a lot of shenanigans.

She had a lot of tolerance for our love of pets. Once when we were pre-teens we visited the elderly farmer next door and came back with a box covered with a towel, and carefully carried it into our kitchen. We walked very gently, and my mom had just finished putting dinner on the table and could see that we had what we thought was a treasure. She came over and asked what was in the box, knowing she probably would not like the answer. We giggled and pulled the towel off showing six puffy yellow baby geese. We told her our neighbor Lawrence had given them to us and we were going to keep them in our room. She rolled her eyes and without hesitation said you cannot keep them in your room, but she did not say we had to take them back. She told us they have to be under a warming light and she helped us set it up in our kitchen, until they were big enough to go outside. I loved those geese. They were like watch geese. They were very loud when someone drove into the yard.

IMG_0762Likewise she let us keep a horse from that same neighbor when we convinced her that it kept coming to our farm because it was lonely, because Lawrence told us he was getting too old to ride it and he said we could have it. I had my own calf every year to bottle feed and we had chickens, baby pigs, and once she let us get a chinchilla. She helped us nurse a pigeon back to health after it hit a window and hurt its wing. She helped bandage its wing and showed us how to feed it oats until it was healed enough to fly. Mom taught us to milk a cow and how to pick chicken eggs. She taught us how to give medicine and vaccinations to calves, and once in a particularly cold rainy spring, she brought a newborn calf into the house to save it. It was in bad shape and would have died had she not dried it out by putting it into a large box and warmed it up with an old bonnet hair drier.IMG_20140318_0043_NEW

Mom could fix our ouchies with a kiss, and she could fix the bailer when it broke. She always looked good, and even though she had all of us, we were clean and well behaved in church on Sundays. Her house was clean and we were well fed. She accomplished it all and kept up with the farm. Looking back on it, I do not know how she did it all.

Mom was good to us in tolerating our curiosity, and she has always been good with her grandchildren in teaching them kindness and care of animals.   My mom taught us to be gentle and to care for soft, small helpless things in this world that depend upon us. We all have called her often over the years for advice on kids, puppies, baking, fixing things, and just to talk when we were stressed.

I have only fond memories of growing up on the farm with her, all of us running barefoot, playing with the animals and eating tomatoes right out of the garden. Mom showed no fear in how she approached any project and we have tried to show her same confidence and competence in our endeavors. She taught us independence, self reliance and she had confidence in us that we could accomplish anything.  IMG_20140302_0048_NEW (2)