Monday, November 7, 2011

Lost skills?

A relative of mine had the chance to travel around to a lot of small-town museums this fall. The museums tend to have a lot artifacts from the European pioneers who first settled the area as farmers - a cream separator, a forge, an old school desk, a horse-drawn carriage...

Most of these museums are volunteer-run, and open only in the summer. To close the season, a big event at some museums is the old-time threshing demonstration.

Unfortunately, as the overwhelmingly elderly people in one small town told my relative, there aren't any young people who know how to operate a threshing machine, or who have the time and inclination to learn. One of them went on to list other old-timey skills that they have difficulty finding people to demonstrate: canning chickens and darning socks were at the top of the list.

It so happens I can do those domestic things. (Don't ask me to operate a thresher.) And when I think about it, I know more than a few city folks who are able to. Canning, I think, is making a renaissance; I volunteered this summer with a group of undergrads who gleaned fruit trees and learned how to can the proceeds. They had a blast trying out different recipes from the Bernardin website. Knitting has also come back into style, and if you put all the effort required into knitting socks, you're going to want to darn them. Believe me, I know:

An acquaintance commented on the city-rural divide that she saw in our area during a debate on urban chickens. "People in the city were just like, why would you want to do that? we left the farm for a reason." Maybe the younger generation doesn't have as much of that. The city is slowly coming to appreciate what once were rural skills that you shucked off along with your manurey boots as soon as you could leave the farm. The values of good food, manual labour, the pleasure to be taken in creation and craft, and a spiritual yet practical connection to the soil can be universal.

Will there be a renaissance in the rural areas too?


  1. p.s. gorgeous sock, by the way.

  2. Ah, lost the first comment. Which was, as I recall, that even my rural neighbours in the early '80s thought I was looney for growing a big garden & working to be self-sufficient in food & feed my family healthy organic stuff. Oh, and I had great intentions of learning to tat from the elderly woman who was the only one in the community who still knew how. Alas, it never happened.

  3. I just heard an interesting episode on local NPR about the potential renaissance among young people here in NC. The discussion was also around participaction or likelihood of participation of younger generations of African Americans given historical land discrimination in this state whose negative effects are still being felt in thew form of lawsuits that the older generation is still tied up in. But there was definitely a sense of hope given the high level of interest in our generation and younger in all the aspects you mentioned in your last paragraph, even if many of these people come from the city and college backgrounds, which might not make them intuitively farming candidates.