The Real Dirt


Betty was the lady who ran the farm next door. That was back in the day when I wasn’t yet quite as tall as a milk can. Filled with 10 gallons of fresh, sweet milk, those cans weighed in at about 100 pounds. Betty could lift them two-at-a-time, or so I recall. Betty was one tough farmer, but no less so today even if we’ve graduated to automatic milkers and milk coolers.

Sometimes Betty let me hang around the barn and watch her milk the cows. My hands weren’t even big enough to try it for myself yet, but what I learned watching her made me a life-long admirer of everything farming.

Her husband, Larry would have impressed me just as much, but I wasn’t allowed to ride his tractor or split logs with him yet, so the only magic I saw him do was shovel manure, and I didn’t want to help.

Obviously, that was long ago and fewer people are doing it today. Yet, they feed us all. It’s a miracle not enough of us remember these days. I’m afraid it seems like dirty work.

Even the dictionary has it wrong. Dirt is defined as: “Mud or dust, loose soil or earth; the ground, a substance that contaminates someone or something.”

That word “contaminates” should make us all blush if we believe dirt does that. It’s the wrong stereotype. When it comes to farming, dirt dignifies the farmer and everybody who respects her.

That’s the other stereotype I suggest we lose. In 2012, when the last agriculture census was conducted, the United States was the home to 969,672 women farmers. Nationally, women ran 30 percent of our farms. New York was higher than that average, but in Arizona, women ran a full 45 percent of all farms.

So, this week, your Jamestown Gazette’s cover story invites all of our readers to remember our farmers. And beyond that, our women farmers. This country is what it is because nearly a million of the Bettys I grew up with are part of that workforce. It is powerful, dignified, and an example of hard, smart work worth knowing more about.

More than a half-century ago, President Dwight Eisenhower knew we had drifted too far from our roots when he said, “Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you’re a thousand miles from the corn field.”

And he wasn’t the first US president to say so. In fact, George Washington himself once told the congress, “I would rather be on my farm than be emperor of the world.”

So, although we’ll still be shoveling snow and chipping ice off our windshields for a while longer, our “Think Spring” message for our readers this week is to take an example from our powerful local agricultural community about the dignity of hard work and good old dirt. Daniel

Webster once pointed out, “When tillage begins, other arts follow. The farmers, therefore, are the founders of human civilization.”

Next time we meet in the produce and dairy sections of the super market, I hope you, as I, will be a little more aware that our fruits and veggies, milk, butter and eggs, meat and poultry, didn’t just grow in aisle 5. Thank a farmer. She’ll appreciate the kind word. She knows the real dirt.

“Those too lazy to plow in the right season will have no food at the harvest.” Proverbs 20:4.

Enjoy the good feed and enjoy the best read in town.

Walt Pickut

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Walt Pickut’s writing career began with publishing medical research in1971 while working at the Jersey City Medical Center and the NYU Hospital and School of Medicine. Walt holds board registries in respiratory care and sleep technology as well as bachelor's degrees in biology and communication, and a master's degrees in physiology from Fairleigh-Dickinson University in New Jersey, with additional graduate work in mass communication completed at SUNY Amherst. He currently teaches Presentational Speaking in the Houghton College PACE program at JCC and holds memberships in the Society of Professional Journalists and the American Society of Business Publication Editors. He lives in Jamestown with his wife Nancy, an MSW social worker, and has three children: Dr. Cait Lamberton in Pittsburgh, Bill Pickut, a marketing executive in Chicago, and Rev. Matt Pickut in Plymouth, IN.