Farmer Jacobs and Wife

fam-history-sm-1Parents – You love them deeply and pray at the same time that you never become anything like them. I should assure Kate (Dina’s mom and Plough & Stars soap fairy) that this sentiment doesn’t come to mind because she’s currently visiting us.   Rather, it’s spurred by the following quote from Clarence Beck, the son of a Dust Bowl farmer, who was interviewed in Ken Burns’ most recent documentary:

“God, what do I have to do to have money and not be a farmer? I don’t care whether it is being a pimp, I don’t care whether it is stealing – whatever it takes so that I’m not going to farm and I’m not going to be broke.”  

Ultimately, Clarence’s prayers were answered.  He didn’t become a farmer – or a pimp for that matter.  But genetics are hard to escape.  It turns out that in our march back to the land, Dina and I are walking a well-trodden path traveled most recently by our own grandparents.


My dad recently unearthed a dusty and forgotten guest book that tells of a decade of summers spent on Minesota’s Lake Mille Lacs (French for ‘thousand lakes’ but pronounced colloquially as ‘mul-ax’).  Toward the end of WWII, my grandparents, Mabel and Joseph Jacobs, bought forty acres and a clapboard cabin that they crammed with visitors from frost to frost. Their war-weary friends would beat a path to their door seeking some uncomplicated peace and a game of croquet. At the end of their stay, they scribbled their names, addresses and commentaries in the small brick-orange book, which reads like a seven-year inventory of potatoes planted, peas canned and fish caught.

The first page opens like this:

“Grand day – wonderful meal.  New radish – young onions, odorless?? – Fresh Ham!!! – Blueberry Pie – All produced by our host, “Farmer Jacobs and Wife” – W. Hayward June 18th, 1944.

fam-history-sm-2Sixty-three years later, an urbanite going to Farm School is enough to warrant a four-page spread in the newspaper – as if we’re inventing something. But these old pictures make one thing clear – we’re not pioneers of any sort. Sure, it’s a departure from today’s norm, but look only as far back as Eli Whittney and the cotton gin, and nearly 90 percent of our forebears worked with dirt and plough.

So as I head back to the farm after Christmas break, I wanted to give life to faces and voices that are both distant and increasingly familiar – the black and white remnants of all of our recessive genes.  And if my ancestor’s gardening successes are my legacy, perhaps I should start a CSA’s for freakishly huge squash.

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June 1, 1949 “Richard and I spent form the 13th to June 1st here. Really the most beautiful time of the year. Yard and everything just beautiful. Apple, crab and plum trees in bloom, also lilacs and tulips in blossom. Brought tomatoes and cabbage up with us the 13th and put them out. We also had to cover the strawberries 3 times to keep from freezing. Potatoes show signs of frost. Marcellus and family came up to the place for the the memorial weekend. Mother and Jerry with them. Jerry fish with Joe Saturday and had with with us all were here sunday for dinner and supper. Has been a grand vacation.” — Mabel Jacobs



June 23,1947 – “So much fun to stay in the cabin and watch the big waves in the lake – roamed around in the woods, eat onion, radishes, lettuce from the garden, cooked 2 fish Wilbert and Joe caught. Did I eat?! Everything was super. We will always remember how Richard welcomed us.” — Myrtle Chritton Independence Kansas



October 24, 1948 – “Excellent garden this year, although extremely dry spring. Plenty rain in June, then driest fall in 12 years. Took lots of water pumping. No Frost Damage. The two apple trees killed by blight. Fishing not good. Practically no Northern, altho reports were that Walleye fishing was best in years on the average. Lake level lower about two fee from early spring. Made wood chopping rig which works great. Also two bladed saw.” — Joe Jacobs


Dina's Grandma Jane at a farm in Ohio that she ran as a retreat for inner-cty kids.

Dina’s Grandma Jane at a farm in Ohio that she ran as a retreat for inner-cty kids.



  • January 6, 2013 at 9:07 pm // Reply

    Farming, mixing dirt with your fingers, digging it from under your finger nails seems to run in all of our blood. I believe most of us, if we chose to look, would find someone living close to the earth in our recent heritage. Jane Jansak, your grandmother, chose to “raise” inter city kids into a higher understanding of the circle of life via hers and her husband’s (Paul Jansak) farm in Eastern Ohio. The next generation is joined to the soil in different ways and degrees. Your generation is joined more tightly through both your experience as well as the homestead already established in Texas via others within your family circle.

    I looked through your entry, enjoyed the photographs and realized I have been to the lake in Minnesota myself. But – to be honest – when I saw the picture of the pike all I thought about for a moment was “what a great fish carcass to use for fertilizer”!

    Please continue documenting your journey back to the earth via your entries and pictures. Think about how your grand children and great-grans will enjoy your travels.

  • January 7, 2013 at 5:27 pm // Reply

    Great set of photos you shared with us today! Loved the fish on a string the best as it reminded me of dear ole Lake Tahoma and Hoot ‘n Holler cabin with Mary and Bill Duckworth. Good times and we just loved the article in the Globe about you. I have saved it in case you need an extra copy. Hope all is well with you 3!!! Jacobs and we are sending love and hugs in this New Year we are beginning together. Time to formulate and sort out our dreams for the next 12 months….. Keep up the great job you are doing and know that you have support right here if you need us! Lynne

  • January 7, 2013 at 6:39 pm // Reply

    Dina and Eric,

    A fascinating journey of the past moving to the present. Dina, how are you feeling…how’s the pregnancy going?

    I enjoy your posts as well as your search for your own special life style.

    My best,

  • January 7, 2013 at 9:22 pm // Reply

    Eric, what is your email address? I want to forward something to you with a comment.

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