Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Farm Kids on Snowbound Days—The Cabin Fever App

Dad, my uncle, and my grandparents farmed together and lived on three homesteads that were spittin’ distance from each other. The combined kid-count for the families eventually reached fourteen, so we could move like a swarm of locusts from house to house--playing in the yards, spilling kool-aid in the kitchens, and tracking in enough mud to start small indoor gardens.
Before we were old enough to chore and drive tractors, the adults tolerated this mayhem, but winter must have been a “hell freezes over” situation at times. As Mom recalls, “On a snowbound day, you kids could wreck my house in the morning and then move on to Aunt Ruth’s place for a second shift in the afternoon.” With no video games, cartoon networks, or battery-driven toys, we built pillow forts, played hide-n-seek, and concocted games with marbles, plastic army men, and knicked-up Lincoln Logs. When cabin fever reached a certain point, the folks would relent and let us brave the snow and cold. Even in the dead of winter, a Midwest farm in the 60s could be a vibrant playground.
We might start in the yard with snowball fights, snow angel designs, and our own frantic version of fox and goose. With Mom’s home-sewn snow suits on, we survived tumbles on the ice and wrestling matches with the dogs, but as we grew a bit older, our boundaries expanded. Red plastic saucer sleds worked well on snow drifts and short inclines, but large runner sleds gave us more speed. We’d take off down the lane, often with brothers or cousins jumping on until a sled might look like a shaky pile of logs with a boy at the bottom groaning in pain until all three or four of the bobsledders crashed in a heap.
The creeks and pastures called us further afield even when they looked like silver arctic zones. The two streams on our farm provided a Jack London setting, and we would walk on the ice looking for muskrat trails and rare beaver dams. As in London’s famous story “To Build a Fire,” one of us would occasionally break through the ice and fill a boot with frigid water. Unlike the story’s main character, we all survived, although I’m sure we entertained the shivering victim on the fast walk home with tales of frozen fingers and amputated toes.
Survival was tougher when we became old enough to skate and play hockey on the creek. We’d make holes in the ice for goals and the pucks were rocks, clods, or maybe a frozen “road apple” from an old cow pie on the bank. Scores were low but wet clothes and near concussions came regularly from our awkward falls and lack of skating ability.
When cold winds started to numb our cheeks, we might seek refuge in one of the barns. Hogs and cattle provided a type of bio-heat that came from warm animal bodies and the steamy straw-manure bedding they lay on. The heat rose into the haymow where we’d make tunnels and play some type of king-on-the-hill turf war. It was a bonus if we found a nest of baby kittens and a bummer if someone crawled through a tunnel that the raccoons had used for a litter box.
A classic winter day on the farm ended with a peel-and-pain routine. We’d peel off wet gloves, four-buckle boots, and ice-laden coveralls and then complain as our fingers and noses burned with the stinging pain of the thawing-out process. We then huddled in front of the furnace vent and got warm with the help of fresh-baked rolls. Mom knew how to cure frostbite. She also knew how to acquire some sanity on snowbound days. In an era long before smartphones, Mom had an app for kid cabin fever: it was an aperture called the front door, and she knew how to download it—you dressed the kids in warm clothing, turned the door handle, and let them access the winter wonderland that came already installed on a Midwest farm. by dan gogerty

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Hygiene Hypothesis—Farm Germs Might Be the Best Medicine

Update Feb. 2016:
** The Dirt Cure: This new book looks into research that suggests that spending time around farms, parks and other green spaces can benefit children in surprising ways, protecting against allergies, enhancing immune function and potentially even improving attention span and academic performance.

** 2015: Young children who have a pet dog in the home are less likely to go on to develop asthma, a large Swedish study has found. It also says that living on a farm with lots of animals seems to confer even more protection.**

Links from the past year:  This doctor gives the latest on the hygiene hypothesis, the "old friends" theory, and general food safety in the new age.

And for us ex-farm kids with stuff still stuck to our shoes, new research shows that adults who move to farming areas where they experience a wider range of environmental exposures than in cities may reduce the symptoms of their hypersensitivities and allergies considerably. 

Farm Germs Might Be the Best Medicine

New research suggests that farm kids have fewer allergies than city kids do—and the hygiene hypothesis might demonstrate why.  According to some experts, we’re too clean nowadays. Our immune systems protect us by learning how to fight bacteria and other invaders. We need to “get down and dirty.”

I’m a bit skeptical of this theory, but because of my upbringing, I want to believe it. Raised on a Midwest farm a long time ago—in a galaxy far, far away—my brothers and I were the perfect study group for the “unhygienic theory.”

About the time JFK was asking the country to ask not, we were exposing ourselves to just about any germ that had ever heard of central Iowa.  During summer—before we were old enough to do much farm work—mom would open the screen door after breakfast, letting us out and a few flies in. Dad and his brother ran the traditional corn, soybeans, pigs, and cattle farm, but in reality, it was a 400-acre magic kingdom for my brothers, cousins, and me.

The creeks, barns, pastures, and groves provided the types of playgrounds no modern designer could match. And even though we never thought of it, these places must have been crawling with enough germs to make a bacteriologist drool.

During a typical day, we might crawl through poison ivy, build dams in murky stream water, and run through clouds of ragweed pollen. Our kid quests would take us under rusty barbed wire fences, through tick infested groves, and across pastures laden with fresh cow pies hidden in the grass.  By lunchtime, one of the gang had been stung by a bee, stabbed by a fish hook, or hit in the back with a mud pie.

We didn’t call it locavore food back then, but the hearty noon meal gave us a few minutes to pick cockleburs out of our socks and flick a few garden peas at a brother when the folks weren’t looking. For their part, Mom and Dad would take a head count, tell us to be safe, and then release us hounds again after the 12:30 cartoon show was over.

We’d had the usual school vaccinations, and in those days, the folks might “cleanse us” with deworming medicine or take us in for a tetanus booster shot if we stepped on something nasty in the creek. By the time we returned to the house each summer day, Mom could shake the dust off our overalls, but we had spent the hours as host organisms in a rural petri dish, so I imagine a half billion or so germs stayed attached.

After supper, we slid out into the yard where we played ball or set up miniature farms in the dirt.  The barn cats scratched around with us, and my brothers occasionally shared their tootsie roll pops with our dog, Smoky. By the time the mosquitoes let up and the lightning bugs started flashing low along the grass, we knew it was time to go in.

I don’t know if we farm kids ended up with fewer allergies and illness, but if having fun is a way to immunize yourself from disease, then we had a heavy dose of some powerful medicine.  by dan gogerty (photo from corbisimages.com)

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Family Meals, Diet Plans & Farm Days

Latest update: The Worst Weight Loss Advice--according to this dietitian. Think you're not losing because you're not eating enough? Think again.

March news: Yale researchers decide which diet plan is best. Real food and common sense might be in the running!

Werewolf Diet: One of the newest fads in celebrity diet circles is one that might have you howling at the moon. The werewolf diet, also called the Lunar Diet, says that you can lose weight and improve your immune system by fasting and dieting according to the phases of the moon.

The Leave It to Beaver Diet Plan

When I see a Cabbage Soup Diet hailed as a way to “shed holiday pounds” or “lose weight quickly before an important event,” I get a sudden involuntary cramp. Nothing wrong with cabbage, and I imagine the diet has its good points, but I’m not sure I’d want to be around somebody who eats cabbage for seven days in a row.

Guess who did all the work...
Nutrition is important, so I’m not belittling the need for eating plans. However, I think back fondly to the days before I even heard the word “diet.”  Because I grew up on a farm in the 60s, the daily menu was set. We had meat, potatoes, and vegetables twice a day, and the morning started with cereal or the bacon and eggs standard. A few pancakes might show up at times, and we often had fish on Fridays, but you get the picture. The Leave It to Beaver diet.
Mom bravely tried a chop suey meal once in the 60s, but the family reviews were somewhere between confusion and revolt. Three pre-teen boys in overalls weren’t yet ready for such a cultural awakening—even if the meal had no more to do with Asia than the Chinese checkers game in our closet.

I can’t remember hearing much about diets even in my college years. In Iowa City, I lived with three friends, and our attempt to cook alternating meals for each other broke down after a few weeks—about the time the sink became permanently clogged with spaghetti, banana peels, and pop-top rings.

However, I did hear of one diet plan during those years. Perry had a Dodge station wagon filled with boxes of instant mac and cheese and cases of RC Cola. He was the first techie I ever met—at a time when the only computer on campus was a mainframe about the size of Rhode Island. His profession has since become popular, but I still haven’t seen his exclusive mac and cheese diet touted anywhere. And you're out of luck if you want an RC Cola.

During the past few decades, a new diet plan pops up about as often as a new fast food outlet opens. The list includes diets such as the Atkins, South Beach, Mediterranean, grapefruit, vegan, low-carb, high protein, and Jenny Craig.  Some are more appealing than others. The Blood Type Diet just doesn’t work for me—sounds too vampirish. However the Okinawan Diet comes from the part of the world with the highest life expectancy. Maybe it’s the tofu and goya. The Kangatarian Diet has a certain bounce to it—vegetarian plus kangaroo meat. The Cookie Diet sounds most sinful, while the Hallelujah Diet most inspirational.

I guess it’s obvious that I’m not a diet guy, but I did hear an interview recently from a proponent of low sugar intake. Dr. Robert Lustig has a book—Fat Chance—and he has supporters and detractors. I imagine sugar and candy companies don’t send him birthday cards. He basically advocates exercise and a diet low in sugar, low in salt, high in fiber, and high in unprocessed food. “Eat brown and green food,” he says. “Eat food that doesn’t even need a label.”

So that brings me back to the farm. In many ways, we followed Dr. Lustig’s plan. We didn’t call it exercise—it was just plain fun until we were older, and it became chores and work—but we ate food off the land, much of it natural and unlabeled--plenty of it brown and green. Oh sure, we had a salt shaker back then, and Mom’s chocolate chip cookies had some sugar in them, but our energy was high, and maybe the best thing is: we never even thought about what we ate. It was the Thoughtless Diet.  And there was not even a thought of including cabbage soup on the menu.
by dan gogerty  (picture from lessonbucket.com)

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Doc on Ag—Wordicide: Like, man, I’m just sayin’, ya know.

At his request, we’re letting Doc chime in for another week. He’s feeling glum about his predictions blog of last week. Jamie Oliver hasn’t contacted him; Temple Grandin must be busy cattle whispering; and who knew that 50 Shades of Bacon was an actual book.  So this week Doc asked if he could comment about something important to him: Words.
I’m a live-and-let-live type of guy, except maybe when it comes to cockroaches, ragweed, and wool dress pants. So I hesitate to endorse the wordicide encouraged by Michigan’s Lake Superior State University. For 38 straight years they’ve produced a “dead words walking” list, but before sending these terms over the Word Cliff with classics like “you know,” “user friendly,” and “have a nice day,” I want to kick the phrases down the road and think about them one more time.

** Aside from the dreaded "fiscal cliff" phrase, I guess their top word to delete is YOLO, an acronym for You Only Live Once. That shows how behind the times I am, because I thought Yolo was the name of a track or soccer star or something. I’m still adjusting to Carpe Diem. For the longest time, I believed it was a slogan advocating daily carp fishing.
** Of course “kick the can down the road” made the list. We all do it, but now that we have a Congress that is the poster child of the act, we need to come up with a different metaphor. However, we could still include a reference to kicking someone’s can.
** Job creators: Since the crash of 2008 this has been a common phrase in political circles, and last fall’s election put it in lights. If you grew up on a farm, you know the real job creators were called “Dad,” “Uncle Pat,” or the neighbor, “Raymond,” and the jobs were something like feed the cattle, clean out the hog house, or weed that soybean field.
** Superfood: Some worry that marketers have us thinking most anything can be nutritionally beneficial—wholesome, natural, organic, probiotic, energy-producing. I’m all for healthy eating, but one superfood from my youth still has magical powers: mom’s cinnamon rolls. I can burn off calories just thinking about how good they are.
** Boneless wings: I’m not sure why this bothered the college word assassins. Maybe they thought city folk would actually envision farms full of floppy chickens shaped more like warm silly putty than a bird. Whatever you call them, I reckon if they’re spicy enough, they could be made of floppy chicken--or natural, organic, probiotic silly putty--and they’d still taste good.
** Bucket list: Skydiving onto Mt. Everest and skiing down it while drinking a Dos Equis is cool, but evidently the wordmeisters are bugged because too many folks are trivializing the concept. “I gotta eat me one of those deep fried Twinkies on a stick before I die.” Oh well, whatever sizzles your bacon, I guess.

When it comes to bucket lists, I still like the philosophy of a good ole boy who lived in our neck of the woods when I was a kid. Pooch might be working on his farm or at his small-town gas station, but he was willing to “set the buckets down for a spell” whenever friends drove up for a chat or to lure him off to the fishin’ hole. Come to think of it, maybe he was a “carp the diem” man way ahead of his time. YOLO.
by dan gogerty, picture from piedtype.com