Word Hunger – Talking about Food
By Susan Hoskins Miller
Putnam County farmers had interesting stories to tell about their experiences producing food over the years. The discussion was appropriately held at the Putnam County Museum, which depicts life and culture in the county since it was founded, including agriculture from its early days to the present. The discussion, titled Word Hunger, and the public art and poetry project that will result from it, are sponsored by Brick Street Poetry Inc., through the support of the Indiana Humanities Council’s Food for Thought project, and the National Endowment of the Humanities. Word Hunger is also part of the Spirit and Place Festival. A presentation on the entire Word Hunger project will take place on Nov. 14 at the Indiana State Fairgrounds barn.
Kids who aren’t raised on farms and have never been involved in agriculture don’t see it as work. Jeri Cummings’ three children saw farming as fun when they moved from Indianapolis to a farm in southern Putnam County when they were still in elementary school. Now, they are all in their late 30s and early 40s, but Jeri said they remember their years on the farm as the best ones of their lives. “That first summer, they spent hours running through the rows of beans and corn,” she said. The family raised much of their own food, including chickens, eggs and vegetables. Jeri canned and preserved much of it, and the kids sold tomatoes and extra vegetables from a roadside stand in the summer. As they grew into teens, they volunteered to cut corn out of beans and put up hay for neighboring farmers, sometimes for pay and sometimes just for fun. “It didn’t seem like work to them,” Jeri said.
During one of their recent reminiscences, they finally told their mother how one summer the two older kids convinced their little brother to hook the belt loops on his jeans into the hay hook on the pulley that ran across the track high up along the barn ceiling. “They pulled him back and forth, back and forth. He loved it,” Jeri said. “They were all laughing so hard when they were telling that story.” Finally, they pulled him all the way across into the hay mow where he unhooked himself and climbed down before they got caught by their mother.
Another Putnam County farmer, Ken Torr, said he has never farmed on his own. He helped his dad while growing up on the farm that has been in the family for about six generations. As an adult, instead of farming, Ken worked as an auctioneer and for Prairie Farmer magazine. Now he has a few cattle and sells calves to youngsters who want them for their 4-H project.
Ken and Jeri were both were surprised to learn the county ranks as the second largest county in Indiana in the production of goats and sheep. The Putnam County Museum has a spinning and weaving guild that meet there regularly. Museum director, Tanis Monday, said most of the guild members are farmers who are working with fibers they raised on their own farms.