Weed-Chopping Cousins (plus losing the battle with wind)

12 Jul

Charlie in his oats.
(photo by Sam Hurst for

The Madville Times reports (Mrs. Madville Times too) that the Johnsons from Orland Township are featured in a new story on about their 30-year experiment with totally organic farming. Not your quaint little vegetable farm either. Charlie and Alan farm 2,400 acres (divided into 60-plus fields) in Lake County, SD, planting and harvesting 5 different crops on a 6-year rotation.

The Johnsons are my cousins. Mary (Bartmann) Johnson, Charlie and Alan’s Mom, came to America from Essentho, Germany (where my great-grandpa was born) as a teenager with the help of my grandparents. Charlie and my Dad are friends, cousins and successful farmers–and their passions for the work are carried through in very different ways. I remember “walking beans” to chop those sunflowers, thistles and cockleburrs in the dawn hours of July mornings as a kids, though. That was before “Round-up Ready” was for real. Or… Maybe, just maybe, it was another way for Dad and his brothers to torchure us boys–just like the hog barn floors and rock picking. 🙂 (Shortly after we all moved on to college, they installed automatic floor cleaners in the hog facility–we used to scrape the floors under the pens on our hands and knees! And, recently, they bought a new implement that eliminates the need for “rock picking.”) We worked pretty hard as kids, and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. Thanks Dad.

My favorite line of all from the Gourmet story: “If I can’t put it on my tongue, I’m not going to put it on my crops.” Charlie says that was his Dad, Bernie’s, way of explaining why he and his brother went organic in 1976–before there was a premium market. I share the same mantra when it comes to my garden.

I don’t remember a lot about Bernard. I was pretty young when he died. But I do remember that crewcut, and that, even after having a stroke and being confined to a wheelchair, I never saw him lose a debate. Thanks, Charlie and Alan, for carrying on a cool family cause, and for sharing your story…

Plus: Tenting in the Wind

A quick news flash: it’s pretty damn windy on the prairie today. I’ve been telling the girls we’d “camp” in our backyard for a week or so. Jaimie is working this weekend, so I had three little helpers (and no big one) setting up the tent this morning. It was a little breezy when we got the idea, but it really picked up as soon as we laid out the tent (of course). After a couple of failed attempts, we finally got everything up and safely secured–or so we thought. During lunch, one side toppled after a broken pin, so we lied the whole thing down flat. Hope it calms down by evening–we have marshmallows and Hershey bars ready to go!

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Posted by on July 12, 2008 in garden, going green, Weather


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