Rooted to the earth

Amish farms, Holmes Co. OH
Pastoral scene.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I stood and talked with the farmer as he rested his team of horses beneath a tree along the road. For the end of May, the morning was muggy. Both he and the horses needed a break from their bucolic labor.

The horses stamped and snorted and swished their tails to discourage any bothersome insects. The conversation with the Amish gentlemen turned toward appreciation and care for the environment.

Across the weedy fencerow, we lapsed into a philosophical discussion on how we all are rooted in the soil regardless of where we live. The setting was perfect for such a stirring chat.

The musky smell of the sweated horses, the pungent fragrance of fresh earth turned, the sprouting leaves of the black walnut tree that served as our shady shelter together fueled our ideas and ideals. We were of one mind.

We concurred that it was too easy to ignore such a simple concept as caring for the good earth. We wondered if society’s reliance on modern technology and our fast-paced global order have dulled us into forgetting our roots.

He pointed out all the construction in our local area, the continued depletion of farmland and wildlife habitat. Little by little, our pastoral landscape was transitioning.

Amish, plowing
Plowing. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

He wondered if people today understood where their food originated. Did they know all of the effort or any of the processes needed to put food on their table? Was the younger generation becoming so fixated on electronic screens to even care?

We both shook our heads in wonderment of what lay ahead, not so much for us, but for future generations. Will they get to enjoy the beauty of the natural world the way we do?

And with that, my friend encouraged his workhorses to giddy up. Soon a squadron of winged insect eaters swooped overhead, exacting an instinctive aerial harvest.

As I continued my morning walk, I mulled over the conversation. A scene from 35 years ago popped into my head. My family and I were at Old Sturbridge Village, Massachusetts. The place is a living museum where folks can go to see how rural life used to be long before the industrial revolution. Another option would be to visit Holmes County, Ohio.

Amish farmstead, Holmes Co. OH
Amish farmstead.

We stood outside the dairy barn near a group of school children and their teacher, who pointed to the Holsteins.

“That’s where milk comes from,” he said.

His students were in disbelief. One even countered that milk came from the store. We walked away quietly.

The sweet-sour aroma of fermenting silage stirred my senses and brought me back to reality. That earthy smell represented the soil, the seeds, harvesting, the manpower and machinery needed to feed the cows to provide milk or meat.

That’s what being rooted to the earth does. It makes you take note and absorb and appreciate all that is around you.

The creeks and ponds, the marshes, and the mudflats are of equal import as much as the grain fields and pastures. Together they provide habitat and balance to earth’s fullness.

Rooting yourself to the soil is critical in caring for the earth no matter where we live or what our occupation. Yes, we need industry and growth to feed, clothe and house the planet’s population. We also need the earth to be healthy and respected to accomplish that goal.

If you want to feel rooted to the earth, you are welcome to walk by my neighbor’s barnyard. I’m sure neither he nor his herd will mind.

rural sunrise
Rural sunrise.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Abby Hart has a heart for the environment

Abby Hart by Bruce Stambaug
Abby Hart displayed some of her favorite mementos from Nicaragua.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Abby Hart, of Millersburg, loved science.

“But I didn’t want to be a doctor (like her father, Andy),” she said.

Instead, Hart put her scientific efforts into something she really cared about, the environment. She graduated from Wheaton College in 2009 with a degree in environmental studies.

After spending a year in Nicaragua through Mennonite Central Committee’s Serving and Learning Together (SALT) program, Hart has just begun a new job at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. She is a program assistant for the Eco-Agriculture Working Group under the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell.

She will be working to interconnect conservation and agricultural practices at Cornell. After her experience in Nicaragua, Hart said she considers this job an answer to prayer.

“I thought I would be preparing to go to grad school,” she said. “But now I’ll get to work and attend grad school as well.” Cornell has a graduate school program for employees, which Hart said she plans to take full advantage off.

A friend in California informed her about the job, knowing Hart’s dual interests in conservation and agriculture. Hart thinks her new position will be a good fit.

“They do research on agricultural procedures and conservation practices,” Hart said. “They focus on rural livelihood.”

After her SALT experiences in Nicaragua, Hart should be well suited for the job.

Hart lived for a year in a rural village in the central highlands of the Central American country. She had previously spent three months in neighboring Honduras, also through MCC, in an internship where Hart honed her Spanish skills.

In Nicaragua, Hart was involved in a food security project where she assisted locals in rearing small animals. She helped them learn how to raise rabbits and goats, two animals that Nicaraguans are normally not familiar with. She said they also raised chickens and sheep.

“We also worked in a water security program,” Hart said. “Ensuring clean drinking water there is crucial to prevent disease.”

Hart served as a liaison between department officials and the project beneficiaries, meaning the people who were involved in the programs. In fact, Hart lived with one of the beneficiaries in the small town of San Pablo.

“My host was one of the community leaders,” Hart said. “Thanks to cell phones, I’m still able to stay in touch with her.”

Hart, 23, returned from that assignment in July not knowing exactly what the future held for her. She was able to obtain a short-term job in agricultural research at the Ohio Agricultural and Research Development Center (OARDC) in Wooster. She had worked there previously in other summer jobs.

During those summer stints at the OARDC, Hart worked with a number of international students. It was then that she was able to improve on one of her hobbies, cooking. She also enjoys walking and biking.

“I still wanted to do agricultural and environmental related work or studies,” she said, citing the importance of conservation and agriculture working together.

Hart said she thinks her experiences at the OARC and in Nicaragua helped her in obtaining this new post.

“I am really excited to get this position,” she said. “It will involve working with both developing and underdeveloped countries. She said Cornell focuses its research on strategies in agriculture and the environment.

“They work in Central America and I will help in building social networks,” she said. “They apply the active learning approach to research and it is interdisciplinary.”

“It will be my job to obtain the most optimal solution for both agricultural and environmental processes,” Hart said.

Given her life experiences, her interests and her enthusiasm, the future looks bright for both Hart and those with whom she will be working.

In appreciation of Mother Earth

Oat shocks by Bruce Stambaugh
Oat shocks near Mt. Hope, Ohio.

By Bruce Stambaugh

The deep orange crescent moon sat just above the tree line on the dusky horizon. Fanned out high over its tip, Saturn, Mars and Venus sparkled in the late evening sky.

Lightening flashed suddenly and silently interrupting the cloudless scene. Radar indicated the thunderstorm 120 miles southeast near Parkersburg, West Virginia.

The next morning, this natural display of awe and beauty was enthusiastically discussed among those who know the value of such a free show. They were gathered in the shade of a vendor’s tent at the annual Family Farm Field Day event.

Storm approaches by Bruce Stambaugh
A severe thunderstorm near Mt. Hope, Ohio.

It was more than appropriate and not the least bit ironic that such talk should take place at an educational affair celebrating the goodness of the land. These were people who knew the importance of Mother Earth, who knew how to care for her, appreciate her, and affirm her, even profit from her without rendering her useless or sterile.

The venue was as uplifting as the conversation about the storm. Hundreds of black buggies stood side by side against the woods, their unhitched horses now shaded.

Buggies at a hitching rail in Mt. Hope, Ohio
Buggies lined up at a hitching rail in Mt. Hope, Ohio.

Cars, vans and pickup trucks entered at the east gate. Along the drive, dozens of bicycles leaned against chain link fencing that separated yards from right of way and kept children from wandering into the long, graveled lane.

In between these contrasting parking lots, thousands of people milled beneath several large tents searching for information on how to better care for the earth. The slight bluff on which the action took place created a symbolic subliminal significance of man and land over that of man and mobility.

Though most were dressed in homemade denim with suspenders or pastel dresses with coverings and spoke a language I should have learned long ago, I was both at home and in harmony with them. We were all there for the same reason, to learn more about caring for and nurturing the land that provides us sustenance and shelter.

Jr. Burkholder farm by Bruce Stambaugh
A farmstead in Holmes County, Ohio.

Besides the vendors’ displays, tents for keynote speakers, farmsteads and homemakers were erected in a huge horseshoe pattern around the pastured plateau. Of course, there were food tents, too. I couldn’t decide which I liked best, the sugar and cinnamon hot soft pretzel or the salty sweet kettle corn.

With the hot summer sun beating down, shade was at a premium for those seeking relief. That did not deter them from exploring the inescapable interconnection between humankind and our responsibility of caring for the environment.

To be sure, that is serious business. But it was nice to see it presented in such fun and informative ways for multiple generations. To the point, bird, butterfly and nature walks were filled to overflowing.

A billowing cloud by Bruce Stambaugh
A storm cloud builds.

But what was really special for me was the dialogue on the previous night’s celestial display. Some of us saw what is erroneously called “heat lightening.”

From the backside of the storm, which is always the safest and prettiest angle, others
saw huge, billowing columns sail through the darkening sky. The higher they rose, the more the lightening sizzled in and out of them, brightly illuminating the swelling clouds.

One in the group had actually been under the building storm and arrived home in time to also watch the stunning electrical display. To hear that enthusiasm, plus see the genuine, cross-generational interest in caring for the ecosystem by so many people stirred my soul.

I left thoroughly uplifted, and with one large bag of kettle corn to go.