Tag Archives: diversifiers

The Diemands’ big tent

diemand-tentDiemand Farm is a mainstay of Wendell’s agricultural landscape.  Following the pattern of a number of other newcomers to the town in the early decades of twentieth century (including the Lewis family), Connecticut-born Al Diemand bought an older farm property in 1936, and along with his wife Elsie, started a poultry business that has grown into a multifaceted operation now run by some of their many children.

diemand-photosNon-farmers looking at multi-generational, family-run farms like this one are often struck by the kinds of continuities that other occupations seem to lack:  rootedness in a particular place, skills passed along from parents to children, nostalgic landscapes that evoke images of an older way of life.  New England farmers have long made use of the nostalgia that surrounds small-scale farming for many people.  Starting in the early decades of the century–when Al and Elsie Diemand were just setting up their own farm–many farms began to offer what we would now call “value-added” products (jams, jellies, fresh vegetables sold at roadside farmstands) and “agritourism” (farm-stay vacations, hayrides, “pick your own” operations).  The Diemands have also created an inviting public interface for their farm, with goats, donkeys, and chickens on display and photos reflecting the farm’s history on the walls of the retail store (above).

But the truth is that farming is as much about change as continuity.  Like all other farmers, the Diemands have continually adjusted their practices in response to changing markets, tastes, and regulations. Continue reading

The Hagers’ experiment

hager-headshot On Christmas Day in 1839, a 61-year-old Wendell farmer named Martin Hagar (sometimes also spelled Hager) made over all of his farm equipment and personal property to his 30-year-old son Charles (shown at left in his own later years).  Charles, who had married the year before, agreed to care for his parents, one or both of whom were probably in poor health.

Among the items in Martin’s list of belongings were his livestock (horses, oxen, cattle, and one pig);  sled and sleigh;  three lumber wagons (suggesting that the family was cutting wood on a fairly large scale);  a plow;  a grindstone;  a mowing machine;  and the most expensive single entry on the list, “tobacco sash.”

Wait…what?  First of all, what is tobacco sash, exactly?  And does its presence in Martin Hagar’s inventory mean that mid-nineteenth-century farmers were actually growing tobacco–a crop that prefers gentle weather and fertile soil–in the rocky, hilly fields of an upland town like Wendell? Continue reading

Lucius Cook’s carrots

carrotsIn the fall of 1853, Dr. Lucius Cook wrote a letter to the newspaper describing his great success in growing carrots on 3/4 of an acre in the center of Wendell.  Subsequently reprinted in The New England Farmer, his letter described how he had been trying for two years to convert a hayfield to vegetable production.  An initial crop of potatoes had failed due to disease.  The following year he  lost most of his corn to worms and then had such a large yield of rutabagas that his horses (the only animals that would eat them) couldn’t get through all of them before the spring, and Cook ended up throwing most of them onto the compost pile.

But with the carrots he hit the jackpot.  He added about 30 loads of horse manure to the soil, invested in a new seed drill to plant the tiny seeds, and hired a crew to do the planting (and remove some of the stones that inevitably worked their way to the surface of the field, Wendell being known as a “rough, hilly town” in the words of the New England Farmer‘s correspondent).  In the fall, the harvest repaid Cook’s costs handsomely, with a yield of 16 tons or 651 50-pound bushels. Continue reading