I spent much of my early years growing up with my grandparents out on the farm along the Missouri River bluffs. My grandfather worked up at the post office five days a week, so I guess you could have called him a weekend farmer. Saturday was set aside for the heavy chores such as plowing fields or baling hay, but he was quite religious and sternly honored the Sabbath. No work on Sundays.
My grandfather always had about 50 head of cattle to feed and milked 2 or 3 cows every morning before work, and again every evening when he came home. They slopped about 50 head of hogs and had about that many Rhode Island Reds in the hen house.
My grandmother did her best to keep me occupied, but she was fighting Parkinson's most of my childhood, so she always had to lie down for her afternoon nap and would send me to the woods to play every day, regardless of the weather. So I grew up running the Missouri River bluffs with my dog, Chubby.
Before the folks bought the farm, it was an old orchard, but my grandfather was a dirt farmer. So, the first thing he did was remove all of the fruit trees from the fields that were level enough to plow so that he could grow corn, wheat, and alfalfa to feed his livestock. But, as you probably know, the Missouri River bluffs have a lot of wooded hills and gullies that are not desirable for cultivation, so he left a lot of fruit trees down over the hills. There were always cherry trees, apples, peaches, plums, and pears, not to mention black berries, raspberries, dew berries and paw paws. All of those different fruits ripen at different times of the year, so there was always something to eat down there in the woods.
When I got a little older I farmed myself out to the many orchards across Eastern Jackson County, picking apples and peaches, strawberries, and picking up potatoes in the Missouri River bottoms. Jackson County was great country for growing apples in particular and there were scads of orchards right here in our own neighborhood before the days of refrigerated shipping. But, because of refrigerated shipping now-a-days, it's not as economical to grow apples around here as it used to be. There are still a few good size orchards operating though.
The first couple that comes to mind is down at Sibley near Fort Osage and then a little further down U.S. 24 at Waverly, if you are still hungry for a good locally grown bushel of apples to can up for the winter.
I was a grandchild out on the farm, so I don't remember having to work too hard. The chickens were my job, feeding and watering them every day, and gathering the eggs. I enjoyed the old hens, they were kind of like pets, they'd follow you around cackling constantly.
The folks always put out a garden each year, and it seemed as though my grandmother was always canning something. So, another one of my chores was chasing weeds, which was not quite as much fun.
My dear old grandmother drug me off down over the meadows and through the woods at a very young age to educate me on just which wild plants and weeds were good to eat, and which were not. Plants like dandelions, wild lettuce, lambs quarter, pokeberry, plantains, prickly pear cactus, red clover, and even cattails are good to eat. It soon became one of my daily chores out on the farm to take up my brown paper sack and a butcher knife and go down and gather a mess of wild greens for supper.
-- Ted W. Stillwell will be the featured speaker before the Independence Garden Club at 6:30 p.m. March 12, on the 4th floor of the Roger T. Sermon Community Center, Noland and Truman roads, Independence.
To reach Ted W. Stillwell, send an email to Ted@blueandgrey.com or call him at 816-896-3592.