My Mother’s Farm: A Mother's Day Tribute

Mother’s Day is a time to celebrate the women who raised us, and today I’m paying tribute to my mother and how she taught me to live, and appreciate, a handmade life.

This story was published in the spring issue of Sift magazine, where I tell the story of growing up on a farm in Maryland with three sisters, a troop of farm animals, and plenty of homemade pizza.

“Running a farm wasn’t a choice; it was a privilege,” my mother tells me. She’s taken care of our farm for 25 years – but not for business or profit.

Farming isn’t in her blood. Raised in a small town in Maryland, she graduated from Princeton University – one of the first female mechanical engineers in the school’s history – before moving to Boston and meeting my father. When I was 2 years old, they moved to the farm to be closer to my dad’s job. With three children under the age of 6, and another baby on the way, she knew nothing about how a farm worked, much less how to milk a cow or fix a tractor.

Sift Farm via @kingarthurflour

A glance at where we moved, deep in steeplechase country in northern Maryland, and you can see the allure. Picture a spring day soaked in sunlight. Six hundred and fifty acres of cornfields and cow pastures stretch in every direction. There’s a tractor winding across the fields, swallows wheeling high overhead, and the buzz of insects in the air. Wide green fields spread out like a blanket over gently rolling hills.

This is where I grew up. We had a pet Yorkshire pig, three sheep, a new flock of chickens every spring, a Shetland pony, and a herd of five Jersey cows for milking. Over the years, animals came and went: barn cats, twin goats, two more pigs, and a few short-lived roosters.

Sift Farm via @kingarthurflour

As children, all of our meals had a story. We made bright yellow butter from our own milk. Eggs came from our chickens. There were zucchini and sweet corn and raspberries from our garden, and honey from my dad’s beehives.

Most vividly, I remember the baking. My mother made everything from scratch: white sandwich bread, seedy crackers, and cheese drop biscuits. She’d let us punch down the bread dough after the first rise, then give each of us a pinched-off piece of dough to shape into a miniature loaf, fill with dark chocolate, and bake until crusty. We’d carry them out to the porch and break them open while still hot, oozing with melted chocolate.

Sift Farm via @kingarthurflour

When I ask her how she learned to do it all – raise chickens, make hay, grow tomatoes – without someone to show her, she laughs and says it was trial and error. She’s resourceful: When she bought our first Jersey cow, my mother checked a book called Keeping a Family Cow out of the library, renewing it over and over again to page through the chapters.

“I learned a lot,” she says. “I thought of myself as someone who loves the land, and I taught myself. I feel proud of that.”

My mother's farm via @kingarthurflour

Capable and smart, she likes to know how things work, which is evident in her myriad hobbies. She’s a skilled woodworker. (Since high school, she’s been building a large-scale dollhouse complete with electric lights.) She can diagram a sentence, cook a perfect roast turkey, and bale hay.

Nowadays farming is trendy. Modern Farmer magazine sits on the newsstand next to Vogue. Urban beekeeping is cool; farm-to-table restaurants are everywhere. But it’s a surface interest; few people seek out and appreciate the value of building a life with their own two hands.

Sift Farm via @kingarthurflour

My mother points out that people often don’t understand her path to stay-at-home farmer. “A hands-on life – whatever form it takes – is seen as less. Less busy, less intellectual, less challenging,” she says. “I think that we have forgotten that these physical pursuits aren’t second-class uses of time.”

That could be one of her most important lessons to me: Showing me that a hands-on life can enrich us just as much as reading a philosophy book or getting a degree.

My mother's farm via @kingarthurflour

I asked her why she always wanted to figure out how to do it all by hand: make her own butter, or bale hay, or milk a cow?

She pauses, thinking about the feeling, and then smiles. “Picture it,” she says. “You’re out there sitting on that three-legged stool. You hear the sound of milk hitting the bucket. You look out into the pasture, and maybe the mist is rising off the fields. And you know that you’re going to use that milk. That’s the cool thing about milking: it’s a real, tangible product.”

This cuts to the core of farm life: For better or worse, there’s nothing between you and the land. You get your hands dirty.

Sift Farm via @kingarthurflour

Part of the magic of growing up on a farm is that every day is an adventure. Once my mother woke us up in the chilled, early hours of the morning to spread blankets on the dewy grass and watch a meteor shower. Another day might have brought the sheep-shearer, sweaty and shirtless, to wrestle our ewes to the ground and cut off their oily wool. Or we would have made ice cream in our hand-cranked machine, spilling rock salt and ice over the porch while we churned.

Everything was homemade. We made our own applesauce, pasta, and yogurt. Lots of nights, my mother would make pizza dough and let us pile on our own toppings: sliced peppers, canned tomatoes from our garden, and soft homemade mozzarella. Her recipe (find it here) uses white wine to make a crisp yet chewy crust.

Life is complicated and full of twists. Yet my mother has figured out how to appreciate the importance of small, daily moments: a mug of tea in the morning, hanging laundry on the clothesline to dry, the taste of the first ripe cherry tomato. If asked, I think she’ll tell me this: The littlest things in life are often the most important. And eat more homemade pizza.

Sift Farm via @kingarthurflour

For more stories, recipes, flavors, and inspirations, check out the spring issue of Sift magazine.

comments

  1. Shalryn

    Your mom is my mom! She wanted to be a mechanic, but her parents wouldn’t let that happen, so she became one of Germany’s first female factory administrators. She married a Canadian soldier and crossed the pond with him, and once he left the military, she learned to farm. From scratch. She taught me my first basic cooking skills, how to garden, and how to raised cows and chickens and horses (and ducks, geese, cats, dogs, goats, sheep…). She taught me how to kill the fleas and respect the bees. She taught me to swim in water so deep that one can’t see the bottom, and how to climb a tall, tall tree without getting dizzy and falling out of it, and how to find the North Star. She taught me how to make jam from home-picked and wild berries, and how to best hang clothes out to dry without bleaching them. She taught me how to see the little things, and even more importantly, how to appreciate them. She taught me how to see the world even when I stay right at home. Thank you, Mom.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      What a lovely tribute to your mom, Shalryn! Thanks for sharing it here! Barb@KAF

    2. Posie Harwood, post author

      This is so beautifully articulated — thank you for sharing! Your mom sounds like a gem, and a very cool woman! -Posie

    3. Marianne

      Oh, what a lovely tribute! God bless your mom and all the moms just like her!

    4. Lea

      Please tell us how she killed fleas? I am endeavoring to be like your mom, and in central Texas fleas are a horrid nuisance. It’s a part time job just to keep the dogs free of them without using pharmaceuticals….love your comment.

  2. Ad

    It’s so true what you say about these small farms. All over the world, it’s equal. Thank you for sharing.

    Cheers from Germany.

    Reply
  3. sandy

    Posie- This piece was such a nice tribute to your Mom. However, my Mom and your Mom could not have been more different. Your mother went to Princeton and mine left school in high school to go to work to help support her family. Your family was raised on a beautiful farm. We grew up in suburbia. Your Mom had all of the domestic skills we think are important. In my childhood home a Fry Daddy was one of the most important cooking aids we had. But in the end it is all really about the love that each of our Mothers gave us. Different for you and me for sure – but just as wonderful.

    Reply
    1. Posie Harwood, post author

      Absolutely, and thank you for such a lovely reminder on Mother’s Day of how much we can appreciate being raised by the women who’ve nurtured us and loved us, with whatever resources they had. It’s such a pleasure to be able to tell my mom’s story, but even more of a pleasure to hear stories of your own, since we all have different ones to tell, and none are any less important or beautiful. -Posie

  4. Angie

    I love this story. It reminds me of my grandmother. Thank you so much for sharing this and for reminding us of how wonderful a handmade life can be.

    Reply
  5. Donna Wendt

    Enjoyed the story ! I too was raised on a small farm, Dad milked cows, we also had pigs, chickens, dogs, cats and a pony. Life was good. If there was laundry hanging on the clothesline after school , it was my job to take it down in Winter or Summer. Mom always had a big garden. Life was so simple then. I have lots and lots of good memories.

    Reply
  6. Liz

    What an idyllic childhood! I loved hearing about your wonderful mom – such a remarkable woman, and lucky you inherited those genes. Thank you for sharing such a sweet story.

    Reply
  7. Lisa Fitzpatrick

    Wonderful tribute to your mom. The photos are wonderful. This mother’s day I made my mom’s pizza dough and my three adult daughters had hands on making,eating and cleaning up the pizza day. Shariing memories and tradition. I did not grow up on a farm but surrounded by a Cattle farm. We did have an apple orchard which I loved. I have continued a family tradition of apple picking day every fall. Then back to my house for chili, Apple pie and dumplings. Baking of pies and making apple sauce. Teaching the young adult nieces and nephews the tricks of pie making. I have tried to get the whole family to come along and pick strawberries , blueberries and cherries, slowly but surely they are coming around!

    Reply
  8. Kathie Pontone

    Posie your lovely tribute brings tears to my eyes. Your marvelous song only scratches the surface of your Mom’s talents— runner, reader, true friend. You are doing your wonderful childhood, and Priceton education, justice by your insightful writing and yummy recipes. Keep up the great work.

    Reply
    1. Posie Harwood, post author

      So wonderful to hear from you here! Glad you enjoyed it — as you know her so well and have seen it all throughout the years! – Posie

  9. Donna DiSebastiano

    Your story is so inspiring!! I read each line and could picture such a life. I had always dreamed of such a life and almost succeeded until my divorce 14 yrs. ago. I learned so much from my mother in law. She taught me how to can, make homemade bread, homemade cheese, homemade wine, prosciutto (like ham) and the appreciation for a simpler life. I knew some of the simpler life as my mom made homemade bread, hung close out on a line….(even in the winter)… : ). My heart of hearts has always been to live a country life… I love hard work and when my husband and I bought some land and built a home, I had to get some goats, rabbits, a horse….and did all of my canning, and other homemade things. I even had my husband put up a clothesline for me….it was a wonderful life and I was so happy and blessed to be able to share this kind of life with my children even if it was for a short while. I believe anyone who gets the opportunity or chooses a more simple life, has a little heaven on earth. Thank you so much for sharing your beautiful story as it has given me inspiration not to give up on my dream, to have that beautiful homegrown life. God Bless you.

    Reply
    1. Posie Harwood, post author

      Donna, thank you for the note…it makes me incredibly proud that this story serves as inspiration and it’s really neat to hear that you’ve had such happy experiences — and they all sound so cool! Homemade wine and prosciutto — I think I’d like to visit your house! -Posie

  10. Barb

    To Posie, Shalryn and the rest.

    How blessed you all are to have had the best of the best. I love your stories and
    and love even more that you appreciate your moms in the present. Enjoy your
    moms and lives for many more years.
    ABS

    Reply
  11. Vivian

    What a lovely heartwarming story. Thank you for sharing.

    Another reason why we love KA because of people like you.

    Reply
    1. Posie Harwood, post author

      Thank you for the note Vivian, it means the world to us here at KA to have readers like you. -Posie

  12. Nel

    This is the first King Arthur post that has made me say, ‘I wish this was a book – and then, maybe a movie.’ Just beautiful and so inspiring.

    Reply
    1. Posie Harwood, post author

      Nel, that means more to me than I could say…thank you for reading! – Posie

  13. Gert Martel

    This is a terrific story and it brought back so many memories. My mom left Germany as a young woman to marry my dad who had immigrated to the U.S? They settled in Nebraska, didn’t speak English, and lived in a sod house with no basic conveniences, unlike her home in Germany. She had six children and like so many moms, made everything homemade. I always admired her determination and never feared hard work. I only hope I’ve passed along these qualities to my children.

    Reply
    1. Posie Harwood, post author

      Gert, I can only imagine that your children are incredibly lucky to have a parent like you! – Posie

  14. Ruthilyn

    Thanks Posie for sharing your life with a wonderful mother. My mother left school after 8th grade to help raise nine other siblings and work on her parents farm. She could sew, bake, budget like a CPA, get on a tractor to help my Dad farm and then look beautiful for church on Sunday. She taught us strict manners, loved on us, cried with our hurts and cried again with our successes, big or small. She taught me more than any teacher or college professor ever could have about life. Even though she isn’t with us anymore, I still at age 64 do things and think “Now how did she say I should do this?”

    Reply
  15. sonne pedersen

    Your mother’s story captured the essence of being a farmer or one who loves the land and lives on it and with it in harmony.
    You and she have given us all a very special gift. Hug her for me.

    Reply
  16. Christine

    I felt a true connection to your mom, as you talked about her. There is truly something to be said about creating a life with your hands…for yourself and your family. Those are the moments you will remember for the rest of your life, and most likely pass on to future generations. Thank you for sharing…what a wonderfully inspiring tribute!

    Reply
  17. Dee

    It’s either in your blood…or it’s not…and when it is…you become one with the land. I would love to meet your Mom, she reminds me so much of my Dad. I told my middle brother just last night that some of my best and precious memories were of all of us working together in the fields growing up. This was a most special share for Mothers Day. Thank you!

    Reply

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