The past few weeks I’ve been working to put together some information, pictures, and old farm implements to create a history timeline wall in our education barn. It’s a neat project and one that I love working on because all the research ties so closely with my family and what I am doing on the farm. My great grandfather, James McClure, and his wife, Elizabeth, moved to Hickory Nut Gap in 1917, so it’s been nearly 100 years that my family has been farming this land! It’s so neat to go back and read through my great grandmother’s letters (a number of which were compiled by my grandmother, Elspeth Clarke) and think about how her life and mine coincide. The legacy that she passed on is still alive today in so many ways. The same is true of my grandparents, and all the workers who have contributed to the farm throughout the years. The farm hasn’t always been a prosperous or idyllic. Through the years there have been ups and downs and everything in between, but I’m amazed at the resilience and dedication that is so evident in the letters and pictures that remain.
Sometimes farming seems an overwhelming task. There is just so much to do, so much to think about and change. At times I grow exhausted in contemplation of the work ahead. This is especially true when the task in question is especially daunting, like raising apples. I love working with the fruit and the orchard is a fascinating and complex world, but it isn’t always an encouraging one. I don’t know how many hours I’ve spent counting degree days, studying up on different apple diseases and pests, mixing organic concoctions and spraying them on the trees, pruning, thinning, examining, and praying for the apples, but our crop still isn’t going to be great. It’s not something I should have had terribly high hopes for. This is only my first year of orcharding, but when you put that much time and effort into something, it’s difficult not to hope. What the history project is helping me to see is that, no matter how depressing it may be to see your work fail, life goes on. That may sound a bit cynical, but really it makes me feel hopeful. We may not be the best organic apple growers in the world, but we will continue to do our best and, luckily, we still have family that love us, we have friends who support us, and we can only move forward as long as we keep our heads up and learn from our mistakes.