Using The Old Farm To Sell The New


Historians like to say that we can’t “go back” to the past and that certainly is true in a general sort of way. But as a matter of fact, in farming circles, we are always “going back” one way or another. In every generation there are people who decide that “going back” is a way to escape what they dislike in the present and there are a whole lot of people, now and historically, who dislike what is going on in agriculture.

Today, we so-called “back to the landers” would rather say that we are going forward to the land and a new attitude toward farming. But the way we make our forward-looking local farm products appeal to consumers often harks back to the old agrarianism. For example, an appealing way to sell locally-grown whole grain products is to call your store or web site a “granary.” It has a sort of romantic ring to it that was hardly a part of the real thing back when every farm had one. Ours lasted until 1958 and the word was common in our everyday conversation. The “grain-ree,” as we pronounced it, was about 30 by 30 feet in size, built up off the ground so that it would be easier to keep rat-proof. Inside it was divided into bins in which we stored whole oats, wheat, and milled grains for the chickens and livestock. I would never have dreamed then that the word as well as the building would almost pass out of existence. Now, with the return of small scale grain raising, lots of homesteads would find one of those granaries very handy.

Using the sentimental past to sell the practical future is so like America. A building lot in a subdivision named Cowpath Meadows will sell faster than in one named Laptop Square. If you want to sell more garden seeds and tools in your store, call it a shed or a barn. If you sell kitchen utensils call your shop a pantry. We get a catalog in the mail called “The Loft.” It is full of fancy clothes. The only clothes you’d ever find in a real loft were grimy overalls and sweaty shirts as the haymakers stowed away hay under a barn roof where the temperature was over a hundred degrees, the kind of heat that kills football players today. Bibb overalls were selling in upscale Philadelphia stores when I worked there in 1970 about as briskly as they were selling in Montgomery Ward catalogs in 1930. In the 1940s we farm children were ridiculed by classmates for coming to school in bibs and I finally refused to wear them. Today farmers wear bibs with pride, having learned that their farm market customers find them cool.

It does inspire at least a philosophical pause. You can hardly call this appeal to the old farm just sentimental. Most of the people who find it appealing never experienced agrarian farming enough to get sentimental about it. In fact, for them, granary or creamery or hayloft or cowshed, are new words. Rather, it seems to me, more and more people are becoming convinced that some of that old stuff really is worth holding on to, nothing sentimental about it.

One of my close friends still refers to a room off his kitchen, where the refrigerator and cupboards are located, as the buttery, pronounced but-tree. He is the only person I’ve ever known who casually uses this ancient word that originally meant a room off the milkhouse for, obviously, making butter. I am thinking, hopefully, that one of these days I will see advertised in spiffy, upscale magazines, like the Edible chain of publications sprouting up in many of our major cities, a new food shop called “The Buttery,” to sell homemade versions of my favorite food. Wouldn’t be surprised if there is one already. [Yup: here, etc. -DS]


You can add them to your buttery list…though given their age, they may have started using the term before it was completely quaint.

“Et fortunam et vitam antiquae patriae saepe laudas sed recusas.” – Horace.
“You often praise the fortune and lifestyle of the old country, but you reject them.”

Wealthy Romans often bought farms as a form of social money laundering. They had no need to represent their earnings to the government, but by owning a farm, they could make the claim that their wealth was purely agriculturally gained, rather than through trade, or prostitution, or money lending, or whatever else it was that they actually made their living by. Our society has the same mechanism, that being “rustic decor”. We like to present ourselves as people who have actually used a plow rather than having bought one to plant in our front yard. Often our desires to go back to the land have only form, and no function. It is when we start using the words and tools of the old country in a practical way, that we have found true victory.

    Great Jason and so true. There is much we can learn from farming in ancient Roman times. I am sure you know all about the Latifundia. You and all the respondents are helping me write the book I am working on right now, bless you all. Gene

Yes Gene, there is a “Buttery” in Concord NH, selling fancy cheese, bread, etc. We actually have a keeping room, bourning room, and a buttery in our old farmhouse.

Quaint old words in food packaging these days usually means one thing for sure,Premium Prices.I think there is in many people in the urban areas still a deep down desire for things rural and so called ‘simpler times’ which they weren’t but thats conviently forgotten.Old quaint names evoke emages that somehow satisfy these feelings.There are many Fall Festivals where hoards or folks from the urban areas around D.C. come to my section of VA to watch apple butter being made,buy so called Mountain Crafts,stock up on apples and sorghum molasses and head back to their Urban lifestyles with their “Fix” of country living.Of course these festivals are geared toward these folks to drop some
$$$ so everyone ends up the better I suppose.

Your observations remind me of the story of someone trying to give away a litter of kittens and couldn’t get any takers. They changed the sign to “Free Amish Kittens” and they were gone within the day. Perhaps your friend Mr Kline has commented on the commercialization of the Amish “brand”.

The granary recollection evoked the memory of oats harvest soon after we got our first self propelled combine. Dad ran the combine and I drove our Ford pickup with wooden sides on the bed. He would unload on the go and I would then drive onto the barn floor and scoop the oats into the granary and be back to the field so he didn’t need to stop. Not quite that ambitious any more.

    Oooohhhh yes, Russ, David has a lot to say about the commercialization of the Amish and none of it complimentary. It is the perfect example of what I was trying to say here. There is more irony however. One of the big chicken and egg companies, and I won’t say which one because it might be true of more than one, has on its egg cartons “Amish grown.” True too, because there are Amish who work in the company’s factories. Gene

May be a section of Detroit can be renamed Deer Run if the movement to de-urbanize eventually wins out.

Logsdon, you certainly shook some cobwebs loose for me: we had a “grainree” that was made from a large shed, and we had to unload flatbead wagons of oats into a 25′ long, 4″ auger with scoop shovels. I learned early that if you kept the auger full in hot weather, the circuit breaker would trip, earning you a five minute break before it cooled enough for it to reset. OSHA wouldn’t have allowed breathing the air! Don’t forget in every small town was the meat locker, where everyone stored their butchered meat: no one had freezers at home then.

Country people had “summer kitchens”, too. When was the last time you went to a “house warming”? When I was young, I would never wear bibs, but now I’m a Pot Bellied Bibber.

I am reading this in my boudoir.

My grand parents didn’t have indoor plumbing until around 1960. There is a room off of the kitchen that exits to the outside that was the “wash room”. The outer door was near the water pump and was convienent to “wash” in in the winter when you didn’t want to bathe outside. Even though it’s been about 50 years, it is still referred to as the wash room.

“A building lot in a subdivision named Cowpath Meadows will sell faster than in one named Laptop Square.”

Around here, I always joke that developers name a subdivision after what they permanently displaced, as in “Deer Run”, for “the deer wont’ run here anymore. . .”

    Good one Yeoman. I’ve also heard farmers say that houses is the last crop a farm will ever grow (meaning, of course, that once the developers move in, there’s no going back).

    Actually,there is a reasonable chance the deer will still run. We have friends that live within 3 blocks of the court house in the county seat and lost a major portion of their garden to deer this year. We live in the country with a stream nearby and see deer frequently but they did not bother ours at all this year. They must be city deer just visiting to see what the old place looks like.

My barn, built in 1868 by Swiss Mennonite, remains an important part of my farm. We still use the granary to store our feed, including the 56 bushels of oats we recently loaded into one of the bins with the antique boards sliding in and out to create the bins. It’s an ingenuous design that still works well and the rats can’t get it (although small mice occasionally make it).

    Ray- I’d love to see some plans for your granary. We would like to build a granary on our farm and are looking for good functional plans.

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