Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie or other critters.

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt (novel set in Franklin County, VA), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), and several Kindle ebooks.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Field of Greens?

Last night, when I went out into the dark, I felt raindrops. Well, not actually raindrops. More like a mist. Still, I had hopes that we’d get a good rainfall. No such luck.

Today, when I walked back from the mailbox, I could hear the grass scrunching under my feet. The lawn is beige. Down the road at the farm, our grass isn't growing.

The rain two weeks ago meant that, our hayfields weren’t beige for a while. Indeed, I could see that they were distinctly green—a good sign. However, the hot dry weather since then has turned them crispy again. I doubt they’ll grow enough in the next six weeks to get a really good second cutting. Luckily, our first cutting provided enough to feed Cupcake and Melody through next spring. Our second cutting would have been the cash crop to pay for the gas, lime, anbd fertilizer required to make hay.

Last year was a bad hay year. We sold all the hay we didn’t need and could have sold lots more. We had to turn away a couple who were desperate for hay for their horses. But you can’t sell what you don’t have.

Now—since mid-summer, cattle farmers are already feeding hay. Not enough grass in the fields. And fewer fields to grow hay now that developers are buying up farms and bulldozing them for housing developments for people who dream of moving to the country.

Will we have enough hay to sell this year to pay for the lime and fertilizer and gas for the tractor? Not likely. But my two mares will have enough to eat.

Those who dreamed of a good crop year will see their fields of dreams turn into fields of despair.

A few weeks ago, the Roanoke Times ran a story about some folks who raised alpacas. It seems, since the alpaca fiber had not caught on as a profitable crop, that the alpaca folks made their money by breeding their alpacas and selling babies to other folks who dreamed of cashing in on the money to be made in alpacas. The reporter used the term “field of dreams,” which comes from a movie of the same name, in which a farmer turned his hayfield into a baseball field and folks came from all over. “Build it and they will come.”

Maybe in the movies, but not in real life.

Several years ago, some of the locals had dreams of resurrecting the old ballfield down the road. They had fund-raising yard sales and the Board of Supervisors even kicked in $4,000 of taxpayers money. The owner of the property offered a lease for ten years. The ballfield was going to be a practice field so kids would have someplace to play. Improvements were made—an asphalt walking track, a concession stand, decorative trees (some of which lived), mulch, a sign, a scoreboard, steps down the steep hill to the field, bleachers. Once in a while, I see a team practicing there, but not often. More often, I see one or two people walking the track. Who wants to have their kids play ball next to a busy highway?

“Build it and they will come?” Not necessarily. Folks do come to the yard sales, though.

In the 1970s, when I was first getting involved with horses, many people jumped onto the Arabian horse bandwagon. They paid big money for Arabians that would sell for bigger money. Investment horses. Large farms sprang up. In the late 70s and early 80s, the Roanoke Valley Horse Show had big classes for Arabians. A coworker of my husband had a big herd of black Arabians.

Breed them and they will come? Nope. Soon the bottom fell out of the Arabian market. The fancy showhorses sold for pet prices. Big farms closed. The RVHS hasn’t had Arabian classes for years.

Two decades ago, somebody in Sontag was going to make money from raising emus. Emu and ostrich meat was the coming thing! He built big barns and high fences. I used to drive past the high fences and see the big birds strutting around. They’re all gone now. I guess nobody came.

Those of us in rural America know that “build it and they will come” isn’t a sound business approach. We’ve seen too many people fail.

We can cultivate our fields, sow the right seeds at the right time, apply fertilizer and lime, and hope for the best. But nothing grows if the rain doesn’t come.

If the rain doesn’t come, how will the farmers feed their cattle and horses—and even their alpacas? A field of dreams won’t feed the hungry.

Give me fields of green any day.

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