The death of a farm

Amy Jo Keifer

July 18, 1991|By Amy Jo Keifer

Bangor, Pa. -- I AM a farmer's daughter. I am also a 4-H member, breeder and showman of sheep and cattle.

My family's farm is dying and I have watched it and my family suffer.

Our eastern Pennsylvania farm is a mere 60 acres.

The green rolling hills and forested land are worth a minimum of $300,000 to developers but no longer provide my family with the means to survive.

It's a condition called asset rich and cash poor, and it's a hard way of life.

My grandfather bought our farm when he and my grandmother were first married.

He raised dairy cattle and harvested the land full time for more than 20 years.

When he died, my father took over and changed the farm to beef cattle, horses and pigs and kept the crops.

But it wasn't enough to provide for a young family, so he took on a full-time job too.

I can remember, when I was young, sitting on the fence with my sister and picking out a name for each calf.

My sister's favorite cow was named Flower, and so we named her calves Buttercup, Daisy, Rose and Violet.

Flower was the leader of a herd of more than 20.

I can remember a huge tractor-trailer backed into the loading chute of our barn on days when more than 200 pigs had to be taken to market.

That was before the prices went down and my father let the barn go empty rather than take on more debt.

I can remember my father riding on the tractor, larger than life, bailing hay or planting corn.

When prices started dropping we began to rent some land to other farmers so they could harvest from it.

But prices have dropped so low this year that there are no takers.

The land will stand dormant; the tractor and the equipment have long since been sold off.

I don't remember the horses. I've seen a few pictures in which my father, slim and dark, is holding his newborn daughter on horseback amid a small herd.

And I've heard stories of his delivering hay to farms all over the state, but I can't ever remember his loading up a truck to do it.

Piece by piece our farm has deteriorated.

We started breeding sheep and now have about 25 head, but they yield little revenue.

My mother, who works as a registered nurse, once said something that will remain with me forever: "Your father works full time to support the farm. I work full time to support the family."

I've seen movies such as "The River" and "Places in the Heart." They tell the real struggle.

But people can leave a movie theater and there's a happy ending for them; there aren't many happy endings in a real farmer's life.

I was reared hearing that hard work paid off while seeing that it didn't.

My younger brother would like to take over the farm some day, but I'm not sure it will hold on much longer.

Its final breath is near.

Amy Jo Keifer is an international relations major at American University in Washington.

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