My interest in agriculture began with visits to my Grandfather's farm in Bethel Township of McDonough County in west central Illinois as a boy. Grandpa was born on the farm in 1915 and spent much of his adult life working and saving so that he could buy the farm back from his siblings and keep it in the family. When this picture was taken in 1969, Grandpa and Grandma had just moved back to his home place.
In his time, I don’t suppose that anybody would have considered my grandfather exceptional. When my grandfather began to farm for himself in the mid 1930s, he was doing what most of the men in the United States were doing. He was farming. At that time, and in this part of the world, farming meant working with many different species of domesticated animals. It meant keeping and working with horses; the engines of the small farm. The farm economy of the time was largely independent and self-sufficient. “Never buy at the store what you can produce at home” was the one of the sayings of the time and my grandfather lived it. In the house he grew up in, almost all of the food came from the farm. The ham, the beef and the chicken were raised on the farm, bred on the farm, butchered, processed and (sometimes) preserved on the farm. Vegetables came from the garden. So too with the pulses and grains, though these were usually milled off the farm.
Hunting and wildcrafting (gathering herbs, plants or fungi) supplemented what was raised on the farm. My great-grandfather, John Luther Curtis, was locally famous for his ability with a shotgun. He won many turkey shoots in the county. Rabbit, squirrel, quail, duck, raccoon, possum, ground hog, channel cat, sunfish, rock bass, largemouth bass, buffalo (the fish), carp, bull frog (legs) and snapping or soft shell turtle could might show up on the table at dinner (then at noon).
During the warmer months, grandpa and his siblings collected and ate all kinds of wild berries. These included: wild blackberries, strawberries, gooseberries, black raspberries and (occasionally) ground cherries. They also collected nuts to crack in the winter.
In the end, almost none of the food on the table and almost none of the ingredients in the food on the table were from off the farm. The only exceptions that I know of were salt, pepper and sugar. When he could - my great-grandfather would order a case of oysters for the meal on Christmas eve. Oyster soup on Christmas eve at grandma and grandpas was a tradition right up until recently.