SUNNY CAL JOURNAL - "The Last Farmers - A World Close To Home"

Republished from 8/07/2001

By Bob Weaver

"Farming - A kind of continual miracle wrought by the hand of God" - Ben Franklin

The world in Calhoun County was barely more than one could see in the early half of the 20th century, the distant ridges and dark hollers. Family members marched off to the wars in great numbers, leaving their beloved farms behind for others to tend.

While transportation rapidly progressed in most of America, after World War II the sight of a single car moving by my Grandfather John McCoy's house in Hur, aroused curiosity. There was a rush to the front yard to see who it might be.

My world was the Village of Hur and the McCoy farm, the Hur Church, McCoy's store, the post office and a dozen or more nearby neighbors, connected by a dusty road and some wooded paths. Life may have been difficult and laborious, but it was not complicated. It was connected to the gifts of life, nurtured by that which was grown by hand and distributed by family and neighbor. People counted because their numbers were small.

Most country roads were still mud, mostly traversing up and down rocky creek bottoms with few bridges. Antiquated ferries still carried passengers and autos across the waters of the Little Kanawha until 1960.

Calhouner's were still connected to the earth, its vegetables, fruits and silage, and animals still grazed on much of the cleared land. It was life on the farm, although some engaged in oil and gas and a few construction projects, survival work like the WPA and the NYA.

A silent but powerful change took place in how families lived after World War II. It was the time of the last farmers, finally giving way to the industrial revolution and labor beyond the gardens, pastures and meadows, moving to Ohio to work.

The population has declined from 12,000 in 1940 to less 6,000 in 2020.

Granted, there are a few diehards left.

A parting from the selling of eggs to the A & P Store, the churning of butter, selling cream, the smoking of meat and the canning of hundreds of quarts of vegetables. For most, it was not by choice.

Still, the first summers after World War II were spent planting and hoeing. Long days under shade trees with baskets and tubs of food to be peeled, cut or diced for canning jars or pickling crocks. The notion of obtaining the food supply from a supermarket was slowly catching on, eventually giving way to such dependence.

The agricultural economy, a hard work kind of life, still lent itself to some serenity. I know Grandpa John went to his night pillow with full inventory of his stock. How much food in the cellar, hams in the smoke house, animals on hoof and hay in the barn. He knew where he stood.

Today, there is dependence on thousands of others that control our lives and daily survival. In New York City during a trucking strike, it was said the city would be without food in 48-hours.

Yet, in the Odyssey year of 2001 it can be said of Sunny Cal, we are barely off the farm, a short distance from those "primitive times." There are few whose sustenance mostly comes from the sod, a reminder of those simpler times.

And many Calhouners, because they so desire, still raise a garden, have some animals and cut hay. It is certainly not profitable. It is in their soul to stick to the sod of their ancestors, and they will really be the last of the farmers, to be remembered.

Calhoun is still about 90% forested, even close to my place in the Village of Hur we find hills (mountains) so steep you cannot stand erect, and there are places that no human being has stepped foot.

And maybe, just maybe, here in this mountainous place, we hopefully keep a few farmer skills alive, just in case, and a few who might even enjoy this backward place.