Vol. VI, No. 4, Spring 1993

About this issue

How Much Land Do You Have?

by Robert Flanders

All Ozarkers are farmers at heart. A student in an Ozarks history class once told me she had learned the secret of her father's obsession with his lawn. He was a life-long railroad employee, now a town dweller, but one possessing an Ozarker' s rural roots. His yard, she discovered, was the only "farm" left to him. Every blade of grass was a part of his "crop."

What is an Ozarks farmer? I remember hearing a lady who was a native to one of those fertile Missouri River counties (where every year great quantities of corn and beans and peas and hay are grown) deny that farming even existed in the Ozarks. In her own genteel way she seemed to be saying, whatever the hillbillies do down there among the rocks, it doesn't include farming!

To her, farms meant row crops. Of that kind of farm, we have few indeed. Ozarks farmers are, and always have been, stockmen, gardeners, and gatherers. They pasture animals--from sheep and goats to hogs and beef cattle; they garden--including orchards, and once upon a time, tobacco; and they gather--from deer, turkey, and fish to nuts, berries, and greens. ("Poke salad" is still canned commercially in Blytheville, Arkansas.) Ozarkers do not boast of their so-many-hundred-bushels of corn per acre, or their tons of soybeans shipped. They do talk about their tomatoes and cabbages, their steers and chickens, their horses and mules. They remark of the gooseberries and blackberries coming on.

The Ozarks has always been a rural region. It still is. But unlike the great commercial agriculture regions on our borders and flanks, our rural economy has been divided: lead, zinc, and iron mining; timbering, including charcoal burning; market hunting; and our peculiar forms of agriculture. For the last century, add tourism. Add also transport, including stock-driving, wagon freighting, railroading, and truck driving. Ozarkers have worked easily in any combination of these enterprises. Some, probably, have worked at most of them during a lifetime. But any combination surely included some aspect of farming.

When my wife and I bought a place "out in the country" to build upon in the 1970s, we chose it for its trees, its slope, its quietude, and its orientation to the sun. None of which much interested our Ozarks acquaintances. Their question was, "How much land do you have?"


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