1972: Reflections on Farm Life

In 1972,  Gloria Conant shared the following reflections on farm life in a speech while campaigning for a role on the Farm Credit Board of Directors. She won.

I am a farmer by choice. I chose to stay on the farm after my husband died to raise our family because I felt that it was important to hold on to the family traditions and heritage for them. So few people seem to value these things today, probably because many haven’t known them. Some seem all too anxious to throw them away. The chicken pie suppers, Christmas bazaars, and weddings are very important to people in our community. But, we too are waiting in line to see “The Godfather,” dress up for the summer production of a Midsummer Night’s Dream, and were as shocked as you were at the near assignation of George Wallace. It seemed to me that in the valley where our farm is situated that I could find the best of both farm and city culture to offer our children.

I was born in the city and grew up there. I think I was actually brought up by my husband to understand the value of a sense of responsibility. Farmers are dedicated not only to the soil and the production of quality food, but to the upbringing of responsible children. My first experience in learning this came as a very new bride. I was instructed in the art of raking hay and turned loose in a beautiful piece of clover. For the rest of the afternoon, I raked in the wrong direction. I was scolded…a wonder I wasn’t spanked! I cried a lot and angrily headed for the house only to be turned around and told to do the job over again the right way or head down the road…it lead in the same direction that had brought me there. Have you ever seen the moon glow on a terrific sunburn, on an empty stomach, at that? From there we proceeded to raise a family and I am quite sure my husband knew that he had a partner.

Farmers are accused of overworking and underpaying their children. This is not true. Farm children, at a very young age, are given chores to do and grow up accepting this as a normal responsibility. Being given a job to do and the responsibility of it, and then the pride and satisfaction of knowing it is well done, is very important training for young people.

We live on a 750 acre modern dairy farm that has been in the Conant family for 5 generations. It is situation in a valley between Lake Champlain and Mt. Mansfield in a friendly community along the Winooski River. The town is called Richmond and it is 12 miles from Burlington, which is the largest city in the state. Our rural regional schools are modern…our tax dollars are being used to provide the kind of quality education we need to keep pace with 20th century society. Our living standards are the same on the farm for our employees as they are for us, and for our city neighbors. Because we use modern technology, our working hours are almost half of what they used to be and the work is no longer back-breaking. We ski in the winter with the famous Cochran family and have a camp on a nearby lake that we enjoy in the summer time. The children have been exposed to politics at a very young age through town meetings and back porch discussions. We have always taken an active part in local affairs. They learn that farmers are true ecologists and that everything produced on the farm is recycled. They have also learned how to get along with people through working with employees…respect is key to a good employee-farm family working relationship.

There is no problem with sex education! That comes naturally to farm children and it is always a thing of wonder and beauty. Which reminds me of a morning recently when I was entertaining a few League of Women Voters at coffee. The herdsman had taken on extra jobs that day and he came rushing to the door. Surprised at finding so many women around, he said, “Gloria, I have three cows to breeds, and I need a bar of soap!” The expression on the ladies’ faces were priceless.

Gloria's manuscript

Gloria's manuscript

I have a son who claims he has “political aspirations” – in those words! Right now it is taking all of the diplomacy he can muster to get thru his freshman year in high school. The youngest boy doesn’t like to do barn chores…brushing off cows, things like that…but will go to the neighbor’s and clean off 50 horses and brag about all he had done that day! Not much different than kids you know, are they? If I don’t seem too disturbed it’s because they are normal and healthy, thank God, and just have to have time to be boys.

There are wonderful people in our community and they all contribute something to the joy of living there…besides drinking our milk! Bill Gillette is a neighbor to the Cochran family. He used to have a donkey named Julio who would pull Bill around town in a little red wagon. Bill liked to drink beer and would occasionally drink too much. Julio would always see that Bill got home. But one night Bill had a little more than usual and traded Julio for a case of beer to a stranger. Bill has never been the same since and neither has the town. Do you know we are still looking for that donkey? We suspect the fellow skipped town with Julio, realizing what might happen if he stuck around. That donkey has special qualities that a shiny new Cadillac couldn’t replace.

If you even have a chance to visit Richmond, and we hope that you will, don’t plan on staying too long.

We are still looking for Julio, and are suspicious of strangers!