Renae Vander Schaaf

It’s a busy time of year on the farm. But is there ever a time on the farm when we can really say the work is caught up? Each season has its own priorities and busy-ness. But right now, as I look at the work staring me in the face, all I can say it’s going to be a busy couple of weeks.

That garden, which was going to decrease in size this year, somehow did not. Even though the rains have been lacking, a few strategic days of watering has resulted in produce: beans of all kinds; tomatoes of all sizes and colors; okra (it’s hibiscus-like flowers are not just for beauty sake); grapes (if we get them before the birds); Aronia berries (which the birds leave alone until the grapes are gone); and apples (but who cares if only half the trees have apples on this year). And so it goes.

There is no need for Covid isolation rules as the trail from the garden to my kitchen becomes my only world.

Out of curiosity, I looked at The Iowa Homestead newspapers of one hundred years ago to see what farmwives were busy with.

It seems like there was a quite a debate on the necessity of feeding the threshing crew when it was your time to have the threshers at your farm.

The whole family was busy then. There seemed to be plenty of stress to make sure you were ready when the threshing machines came to your farm, and that there would be plenty of food to feed the crew.

I always knew a huge meal at noon was prepared and served; and plenty of sandwiches and cookies for morning and afternoon lunches. But I didn’t realize that supper was often served too.

One woman had written a letter wondering how necessary it was to serve an evening meal after the work of the day was done. Her letter garnered plenty of replies.

Some were in agreement — remarking on the fact that if they finished at your place early harvesting, the whole crew moved on Breakdowns or uncooperative weather may have caused issues so that no evening meal was needed; but the meal had already been prepared.

One person wrote she has known of women whose health suffered from preparing so much food in stifling, non-air conditioned kitchens over a very hot wood stove. She thought the men should spend a few days in the kitchen to know what it was really like.

Others felt it was privilege to send the threshing crew with a full stomach and that the men had labored in hot, dusty fields. After all, in 1920, would most of the threshing crew have walked home?

The other debate was whether city or farm women had it easier. The farm wife had to prepare 1,095 good, nutritional meals a year for hearty appetites. They worked hard — thus needing plenty of food for fuel.

“City women have it ‘easy’,” one woman wrote. “No cows to milk, no churning, no vegetables to gather, no poultry to care for, no chickens to run down, dress, etc. She just steps down to the telephone and in a short time everything is delivered to her back door.”

There’s another side to story, according to the city woman. “Cooking three meals a day for 365 days a year would not be one-fourth the trouble if I didn’t have to pamper the appetites of my family. But it’s no wonder! Here we are cooped up without fresh air, sunshine or exercise. My country sister has no worries, for her family will eat any wholesome food set before it. They have fresh fruits and vegetables by simply stepping into the garden. Then too, creamy milk, good butter, meat and poultry can all be had right there on the farm.”

The city woman also often found that when she phoned in her grocery order, she got so many inferior products or was short-weighted, she went to doing her own marketing. Which meant changing from a house dress to a street dress, walking one and a fourth mile to possibly wait in line at the market to make her purchases before walking back home with a heavy basket, according to the article.

All these women have legitimate opinions and concerns, and I do find them interesting. It will sure give me something to think about as I’m laboring over my not-so-hot stove in my air-conditioned house. All the while thankful that storms, locusts and pestilence have avoided my garden thus far this year.

Renae B. Vander Schaaf is an independent writer, author and speaker. Contact her at (605) 530-0017 or