Traverse City Record-Eagle

May 11, 2013

Ag Forum: Farm work helps mom live long life

Special to the Record-Eagle

— Happy Mother’s Day, mom!

My mother was born in 1917, and she has a pretty good chance of seeing 2017. She’s still living in her own home, taking care of herself and even mowing the grass.

If you ask her how she has managed to be in such good shape at 96, she’ll tell you it is because she worked hard on a farm for over 50 years.

Her stories of the farm in her childhood days are wonderful — how her parents and older brothers worked the land with horses, the sharing of labor and crops with neighboring farms, bartering farm produce for needed goods during the Great Depression.

She worked hard on the farm, an equal to any of her brothers, and played just as hard, too. She was a star catcher for the Remington-Rand baseball team, and she has some great stories about the big games against the girls from the rival Whirpool Corporation.

After marrying dad in 1940, she moved a few miles from the farm but still spent many days there helping with the farming and gardening. In 1951, they bought three acres and spent the next three years living in a tiny shack on the property while they started the house where she still lives. She designed it, her husband, brothers and friends built it, and my older brothers helped the best they could. They grew some crops on the property, including pickles, sweet corn and currants. It was the pickles that convinced my brothers they wanted a career outside of agriculture, and all three were successful in their quest.

I arrived on the scene in 1956. By the time I was big enough for farm work, they had stopped growing pickles. Maybe that’s why I’m where I’m at today. Back at the home farm, her mom and one brother were left to run the place. Still, the farming continued at a good pace, with peaches, cherries, plums and black raspberries as the income crops. They also grew many vegetables for personal use and to give to friends or relatives.

From 1965 to 1977, I worked side-by-side with my mother and uncle on the old farm, growing mostly peaches and tomatoes. Mom would be in the orchard or field with us until about one hour before meals, when she would walk up to the house to help her mother prepare the food. On days when there was less farm work to do, she took care of the flower garden.

In 1978, when mom was a mere 61, the family farm was sold and she “retired” to just taking care of her own home and property. After 35 years of this, it’s a bit understandable that she is finally slowing down. She gave up driving several years ago and now has her groceries delivered. But even when they are in peak season, she won’t order fresh peaches or tomatoes, as the store produce can’t come close to her farm-fresh memories.

Erwin “Duke” Elsner is a Michigan State University small fruit educator.