News and Tribune


April 22, 2012

CUMMINS: How to live off the land

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — Rather than looking into the uncertain future, there’s more comfort in looking back at the past. We can’t predict the future, because we don’t know anything about it. People keep scurrying about like chickens with their heads cut off, as do the governing bodies whether they be a nutcase sitting on a throne or our elected officials like chickens scampering to the other side of I-65 to buy votes.

Back in the old days, springtime was a very good time for people who worked and lived off the land and grew food for other people, who also live off the land. There will soon be seven billion souls to be fed, which indicates we should do our best to take care of what’s left of it. Back in the Garden of Eden, food was plentiful, simple as picking fruit from trees. However, Eve and her family opposed government regulations, similar to the Planned Parenthood controversy today, so they ignored bureaucratic mandates, whereupon God blurted out, “From now on, grow your own food!”

City people think food grows on trees. No, it all changed just a few years ago. Big corporations, motivated by huge profits, grow it now, so farm families moved to cities and faster food. If you don’t have a profit to buy corporate produce, you can fall back on the “safety net” as politicians call it. When the safety net rots, what then?

Not that many years ago on our family farm, springtime was a wonderful time of the year. We saw the earth come to life, a rather sudden burst, renewing and energizing all life with trustful confidence and brightened hope. It was the time to break ground for growing our food and for others as well. We took pride in it, and as soon as the earth thawed and dried out enough to plow, we’d hook up a couple teams of horses and turn the good earth, breaking and crumbling it into soft beds for the seeds and plants to sprout and grow. It was like a miracle as the warm sunrays and gentle showers softened the rich, moist earth, resulting in the growth of that which preserves life.

The human connection with nature’s power is a subtle one and requires a personal touch. Man has developed other explosive powers that destroy and annihilate, but nature is the mightiest force. Planting the seeds, nourishing each plant, and then the harvest, all honorable work is what farmers did.

It if was a good growing year, the bountiful harvest took you through another long, cold winter. That’s what we worked for, and come to think of it, the Creator didn’t abandon us if we worked in harmony with his handiwork. Every rain was a blessing and every blaze from the hot sun ripened the fruit. The storehouse filled by persistent and steady work, and we gave thanks.

During the late winter months, the poorer and less resourceful people often lived on what little remained — soup beans, cornbread and if they had a cow and a few chickens, milk and eggs. It was worrisome wondering if all neighbors had enough to eat, but “good” neighbors always helped out. It takes caring neighbors to truly know how the other half live. There shouldn’t be hungry people living a little ways down the road.

Nature is the strangest thing, the way it provides. It works in stages, a painting stroked with each blossom a different color, brushed on one stroke at a time. In early spring, green broke through first. Pokeberry plants sprout early and their deep green leaves were picked first. After a long winter without fresh greens, a poke salad smothered with hard-boiled eggs and hot bacon grease was a mighty fine treat. The nourishment did wonders with the nutrients fueling the work. Then bring on the lettuce, radishes and onions in the canvas bed, and not long until the berries came on. Soon the new little potatoes and fresh peas from the vines mixed with cream sauce filled the bowls on the table before the ears of corn, green beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and so many other things by the loads. We lived from April to November straight from the land and from the full jars from the cellar when the winter took hold.

It was so much better than the fast-food places down the street. Will we ever regain the blend with nature and humanity’s sacred connection to the natural way of things?

Contact Terry Cummins at

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