This summer, I’m working on a permaculture design for the small farm that’s been in our family for almost 100 years and that now belongs to my aunt. This is where I spent all my childhood summers, so it’s quite a wonderful process working with and re-acquainting myself with this land. And, as you’ll see, it is here that one might find the seed of all that I document on Gather and Grow. My father’s generation, even us as kids, grew up taking many of the practices of self-sufficiency for granted: growing and gathering and preserving much of their food, repairing and reusing and making do, knowing how to make things by hand.
During my visits, my aunt and I have coffee and talk about the history of the farm and our family. She’s done a great job preserving many of the traditions of the farm — stories and customs, but also old keepsakes and artifacts from past generations. Kitchen utensils, butter churn, sleds, farming tools. Family photos. Or — what especially captures the interest of a fiber buff like me — old spinning and weaving tools that my grandmother and great-grandmother used, back when these fields grew flax for linen and sheep for wool and my great-grandmother was known as a prize-winning spinner. We even found an old hackling board from 1906, for processing flax, and balls of fine, hand-spun linen thread.
But the treasure I want to share with you today is something else: my grandmother’s notebook from when she went to a “farm wife school” in 1947! Watch out, Mother Earth News and Encyclopedia of Country Living — for this is the true compendium of what a self-sufficient smallholder would need to know, from starting a garden and propagating plants to building fences and making soap and caring for clothes and shoes. All meticulously noted down in elegant hand-writing and precise drawings and charts.
It’s priceless, really. And all the more bittersweet because my grandmother, though still living, is steadily losing her memory. Keepsakes such as this notebook may be one of the few ways in which we can tap into what she once learned and what kept the family fed and clothed and sheltered for decades, even when times were hard.
I suppose Gather and Grow is my own, cyber-age version of a notebook like this?