Learning to talk – and eat – like a farmer

Growing up in New York City meant being able to speak at least two or three languages, each reflecting the mindset and philosophies of a distinct group. I spoke ‘Bronx’ of course, Puerto Rican Spanish and spanglish (mix of English and Spanish), Bronx High School of Science Yidlish (Jewish expressions and inflections mixed with English), and a bit of Italish (Italian expressions mixed into the English). My brother, who was a little kid when we moved into an mostly Italian neighborhood, is much more fluent in Italish. He took to the inflections like a duck to water.
When I first landed in the Upper Midwest – for my job as a TV/radio reporter at a CBS affiliate on the shores of Lake Superior – I found myself in a new linguistic stew. At first, I didn’t know what to think of the “Ya, you betcha,” and the “Uh, ya.” I mean, were they putting me on?
And of course, the rhythm of the day in Duluth, Minnesota was nothing like Manhattan. People were at their desks at 7:30AM. (In NYC, I wouldn’t dare make a call to an office before 9:00.) And my job as a cub reporter was made all the more frustrating when I learned that everybody left their offices at noon. How did you run a city when everyone abandoned business for an hour? This brings me to the language issue. Everyone wasn’t out for lunch, they were out for “dinner.”
What?
I’ve come to understand that this is a hold-over from farming. Even today, in my farming community in western Wisconsin, the mid-day meal is still often called “dinner” and the evening meal referred to as “supper.” Because of the influx of city people, and even more because of the passing of generations, people around here may use both terms in the same sentence to make sure we understand one another.
Fortunately, breakfast is breakfast.
If this was just a matter of learning new terms and labels, I’d shrug and get on with it. But it’s not. As in any culture, terms and phrases emerge for a reason. Take “dinner” for instance.

My new office

My new office

Although Dave and I have been farming for five years now, I’ve been at it full time for only few months. I recently closed a 42-year career in public relations where I spent my days in an office. As with many who work at desk jobs in large cities, I lunched on tuna sandwiches, salmon salads, or lovely plates of goat cheese with apples and caramelized pecans. I ate light because I needed to stay awake at my computer and phone for the rest of the afternoon. And breakfast? Well, I usually skipped that altogether. Like most urbanites I ate my big meal in the evening, at dinner.
Things are very different now. I work outside with beef cattle and free-range chickens, I drive tractors and skid steers. I walk – or rather high-step – through hip-high grass and over uneven fields as I set up pasture fences for my grass-fed herd. It takes a lot of work and energy to sustainably manage and improve Bull Brook Keep, and so I eat lots more.
Eating like a 19-year old boy is definitely one of the benefits of farming. But a light bulb came on just two weeks ago: when I eat is just as important as what and how much.
What happened was that I found myself getting horribly tired over the course of the day. It felt awful. I’d only perk up after a burger, steak or chicken meal at 6 PM. When I mentioned this to Dave his response was immediate: protein. I wasn’t getting enough of it early enough in the day.
Duh.
I’m now in the process of re-educating my head and my stomach. I’ve got to eat a decent breakfast and I’ve got to have my big meal six hours earlier than I’ve been used to.
So today, it’ll be chicken fajitas with all the fixings, a big salad and dessert (bread pudding). Today, we’ll have dinner for lunch.

Sylvia

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