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Farming today compared to the old ways

Wheat farming the modern way is easy.

Today we often wonder how easy it is to grow and harvest wheat, at least it seems so when we look at a video that shows harvest time in the wheat farms, we see a few harvester machines in a field collect the wheat in no time at all, and because of this speed of these wonderful combine harvester machine food is a lot cheaper today than it used to be; of course these machines are only part of the machinery that helps farmers, because there are many more, like the tractor and other devices to till the soil and to sow the seeds, and all these machines put together make farming a lot easier today, and therefore wheat can be produced a lot cheaper, this of course helps keep the price of bread and other wheat made products down.

Of course if we want to talk about farming in general there is more to say than just wheat farming, because there are many other things that the bloke on the land can produce, see this link here-under how Wikipedia explains farming.

Agriculture - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Dear readers, now let us go back to talk about wheat farming and the great benefit that we get from it, today we are writing this article because we see that there is a great difference in the ways of living and they are a lot better; so, for comparison sake let me explain you this, today here in Australia there are a few places that a 600 gm loaf of bread costs you just one dollar, we know that this bread is sold at a very special price to get the customers to the shop, but we often wonder and we do not know how it can be done but they do it anyhow, this very low price of bread is possible only because the farmer can produce the wheat cheap.

Because the wheat is cheap and therefore the price of bread is cheaper, the supermarkets make it even cheaper to attract customers, the supermarkets have a price war also on milk and we can buy a two liter bottled milk for two dollars, that works out at one dollar per litre, again how they can do it I do not know, but they do it anyhow; so there is plenty of cheap wholesome food around for us to enjoy, thanks to the farmers and the supermarkets. But people still complain about the cost of living today, I know that what I am talking about here are only a few items and a lot more are needed to live well. Anyhow, when I was young things were a lot harder and they were very different then, in order to show you what I mean here-under I am going to describe how it was done at the time when I was young and also how hard it was for some people just to have a piece of bread to eat each day, so let me describe to you farming the old ways.

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My name is Frank Menchise

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 Harvester machine and how harvesting could be done today. But I have to say that this photo on the left is just an exaggeration because it is too crowded with machines.

Harvester combine are very complex machines, but they help the farmers a lot at harvest time. 

These photos above show us how easy it is today to harvest wheat, but in the old times it was a lot harder, so we would like to tell you also how harvesting was done then, just to compare the difference.  

 Farming the old ways

Farming the hold ways, dear readers in order to explain how farming was done when I was young, I am going to write here under the way of farm life that was going on then, I know that things have changed for the better now, as we have already written above, because of the tractor and new farming machinery that have come out since then all due to the industrial progress, but when I was young there were a lot less advanced farming machine that could make farming easy, so we had to do most things the old ways, so let me tell you how life was in the farms of southern Italy in the early fifties and earlier. 

It is a well know fact that in those times and even now, there were/are two times during the year, when in the farms everybody would be really working hard and working very long hours; one of this was/is sowing time and the other is harvest time, let us start with sowing times. When I was young the working day at sowing time would start two hours before dawn, because we had to make the horses, mules and other animals ready for working in the fields, we had to feed them and water them as well, it had to be done in such a way that everything should be made ready in order to go into the fields at daybreak. At that time of the year in the morning it would be very cold and there are lots of frosty days, so in the morning the outside temperature could be around zero or below, it is very hard then to harness the horses to the plowgh as everything one touches is so cold; but then when one gets going it is not so bad, because walking in the fields holding the plowgh in one hand and guiding the horses with the other hand is hard work and it makes one warm. This type of very hard work at sowing time goes on for about a month if the weather is good and perhaps it could be longer than a month. When the sowing is done then everything slows down again, but we had still to look after the farms’ animals and do other farming chores.

Now let us talk about harvest time, since this is the busiest time in the farms, because harvest time is when the farmers collect the fruits of their hard labour that they have done during the year, so there is no time to waste at harvest time, this was and still is the most hectic time of them all for the farmers, and it is a very worrying time too for the farmers as well, you see if something goes wrong all their work goes down the drain for the whole year, so to speak. Here I am talking about mostly how things were run then in the farms when I was young.

Now let me say a few things about today farming, especially about wheat farming, because wheat is one of the main important produce that we need from farming, as I have already said at the beginning of this hub. With wheat we make bread and pasta and other bakery products, therefore is perhaps the most important farm produce that we use. So, let me compare what is changed in wheat farming since I was young:

The following description is the way harvest time used to be when I was young. When I was young we had already a horse drawn harvester that was helping us, this early harvester was able to cut the wheat plants and tie them in bundles, so we were already half way down the track of progress. At this time of the year everybody in the farm works hard and for very long hours, it is very hot at this time of the year and everything is very dry. We get up very early in the morning, we get the horses ready for working by feeding them and watering them, then we harness the horses and set them to pull the harvester, and off we go in the fields for another day of hard work, if everything goes well, we might be able to go over a ten acre field just in one day with this harvester. So the harvester needs two people to get it working, one drives the horses and another regulate the harvester, the harvester goes around the field and leaves these bundles of wheat or other cereal, whatever has been sown in the field. Now these bundles of wheat will be collected in hips around the field and later on when we finish with the harvester, perhaps in a week or two, and then we will go back to the fields with a cart to take everything on a special plot near the farm house, where the trashing machine will be hired and set. When we collect and cart everything to the farm house, we work very long days, we get up before 4 am, but we have a break of two or three hours at lunchtime because it is too hot to do anything, then we go back to work and between real work and looking after the animals we finish at dusk around 8 pm, after that we only have to feed the horses: this sort of work goes on for more than a month and sometimes up to two months, with no breaks at all seven days a week. Everybody in the farm works to their maximum and they are very tired, they are also very worried about the possible fire hazard, and also of any thunder storms at this time of the year, since anyone of these happenings can destroy the whole crop, and a whole year of hard work could go up in smoke. When one goes through these life experiences in the farm one knows that it is really hard life farming, but since this is the only way to grow things for food, we the farmers keep working in our farms to feed the rest of the community.

So we feel that it would be right if the rest of the community should be thanking us for all the hard work that we have done, but it does not happen that way because, even when we are working our guts out, and while we are doing that we are becoming dull, the rest of the community does not care and they label us as dull people, just because we are farm people, but we did our part for our own benefit and also for the benefit of the entire community.

This is how life was then in the small farms of Southern Italy, and this is one of the reasons why I migrated to Australia.  

 Horse drawn harvester machine very much the same what we were using when I was young, this machine would cut the wheat and make bundles.

Horse drawn cart used mainly to carry hay or wheat bundles formed by the harvester machine to the trashing machine. 

This is how it was done when I was young, but before then it was even harder.  

 Photo on the left shows the way that harvesting was done for centuries, it was done all by hand, it would take a long time to harvest a large field.

A gang of people harvesting a wheat field, it takes time to harvest a field, you see the harvesting fellow cuts a handful of wheat and ties it up in a small bundle with the wheat straws, after a few bundles are made another man puts these small bundles together and makes a larger bundle to be collected from the farmer later on. 

 Harvesting the very old way

Now, before we come to a close, because we want to compare the old ways of farming with today farming, we need to say at least briefly how harvesting wheat was done before; here we need to say also that I have witnessed the last part of this old practice when I was young. You see, when I was young we were already using a horse drawn harvester, and it was very helpful; but there were people that had some very small holdings and we had one of these ourselves, so we had to use the old ways of harvesting our wheat for that small wheat field, because that was the only way to do it for one reason or another.

So, let me describe how harvesting was done in those old bygone days; at harvesting time strange as it may seem today, one could hire some specialized people that were good at using the sickle, these people usually went from town to town to do this seasonal harvesting job; we need also to explain that in Southern Italy because the terrain has different altitude the wheat reaches maturity at different times, this was helping these seasonal workers to have a longer span of work, now just to compare those very hard times with today times, I have to tell you that these workers were sleeping anywhere they could on a sack filled up with straws under a shelter if they could find one, as they could not afford anything else. In the morning they would get up early and wait in the town square hoping that somebody would hire them for the day.  

Now let us say that we had a small plot about one acre and we could not use the harvester of those time, because it was not possible to go there, we would then hire four people and form a gang that could harvest one acre in one day and collect it in hips that would be later on taken on a cart to the farm house to be threshed one way or another.

In the old times anything that had grown in the field was collected, it needed to be collected for the people to survive, it was the only way because the fields did not produce as much as they do today, because they could not be cultivated as good as we do today.

Now I suppose I have to say briefly how the older generations used to thresh their harvests, in order to collect all their produce. Now, let us suppose that it was only a few bundles of wheat to be threshed one could even extract the wheat by hitting them with a stick, but let us say that we had a cart full, or many carts full for that matter, then we had to use a different method, which is the way that most farm used in the very old times for centuries, so let me tell you how it was done.

I happen to know this procedure, because in the farms when I was young we were still using this method with smaller crops most likely broad beans, lentils, chick peas, linseed, and other farm produce, and the elder would always be telling us that this was the way that they used to collect their wheat as well and usually it took them a few months to collect all the season produce. So now let me describe this to you, so that we would be able to compare the great difference.

In order to do this, first of all we needed to prepare a piece of ground that is very solid and smooth, this could be achieved by stripping the old dry grass on a piece of land that had a large clay content, then wet it with a little bit of water to make it compact; once that was ready we would place our wheat or whatever was to be threshed and collected on this clean ground, then we would get our horses mule and donkeys whatever animals were available and drive them around and around until everything was threshed. Of course there was a lot more to say, but let us make it short otherwise it would become too boring.

Now, once the threshing was done we has to separate the produce from the straw and any other foreign matter, this was achieved by removing the straws from the top layer making sure that no produce was left with the straws, at the same time we would collect the bottom layer in a hip, once that was done we would have to clean that produce by using the wind, to take away the finer parts that were still mixed with the wheat or whatever it was, and there were many other things that we could use to get this wheat clean, by the end of the day we could have collected two or three hundred kilograms of produce.

In the very ancient times was even worse, see what they were using in the Medieval Times, here is a link to check out some ancient farm tools including the Flail and Winnowing Basket used to collect and clean wheat. 

Medieval Farm Tools

I hope that this gives the modern reader a view of how thing were done in the old times, so I do not want to say much more about how all this threshing and cleaning of the wheat was done, because even writing about it is boring today, but anyhow it needed to be done in those days, because that was the only way to collect our wheat to make bread and other things. Now, my dear reader’s do you see how hard was then even to collect wheat for ourselves.

I hope I have been able to write something that really sets up the great difference of the ways of life that we were living then and the ways of life that we are living now, for this I want you to compare and judge for yourself how much better off we are today.

To the young people who think that today life is hard, let me describe to you what I have witnessed when I was young, because then life really was harder then today, you see those days everybody had to find how to earn enough to feed themselves there were no handover from the government. So, the very poor people of those days were trying to collect anything they could to feed themselves.

So at harvest time this is what I have witnessed, I have seen old and poor people mainly old ladies go around the fields and pick up any ear of wheat that was left behind in the fields, one ear of wheat here  and anther there until they had the strength, each day until harvest time was over and there was nothing else to collect; and I tell you what these poor people were happy if in the end they had collected enough ears of wheat that they could trash and clean themselves, perhaps they could have collected enough to make 50 to 100 kilos of wheat during harvest time and they were happy because, they could make bread from this wheat and not go hungry for a few months.

Now I hope that you see what I mean when I say that the youths of today don’t know anything about hard times?

 Dear readers I feel that I have said enough about my farm life in the town of Genzano di Lucania, which is the town that I was born and lived my young life; therefore in my next article we will talk about the town I came from and my life experiences as a migrant to this land of opportunities Australia. See you soon.