Farm Woman Update


More than seventy years ago, in the early years of the Great Depression, my grandfather Ernest Johnston lost his small Sedgwick County farm, moved his wife and seven daughters into town, and became a pressman for the Wichita Beacon. He sacrificed his hearing and two fingers to those presses, but he loved the work enough to stay for decades. Indeed, in the long history of that newspaper, his tenure was second only to that of its owner-publisher. The only work he loved more was the one he had been forced by circumstance to leave behind. So he became a miraculously prolific gardener, and kept his head and hands and heart close to the soil.


Perhaps it’s that dual heritage, love of the printed word and love for the green and growing things of earth, passed onward by the youngest of Ernest’s seven daughters, that has given me such delight in reading Chronicles of the Farm Woman. It’s a wonderfully plain-spoken treasury – yes, a chronicle – of all the changes wrought across the decades in the lives of Kansas farmers in the Neosho River valley, and beyond. Ultimately, it is the story of all the little things in life that cumulatively are always the most immense and important things we do. As Mary Frances McKinney often put it, “the most important crop we raise here on the farm is children.”


Perhaps what pleases me most about the Farm Woman is the way in which she emphasizes how integral, how inseparably interconnected, are the disparate elements of that Chinese proverb I quoted earlier: “If you plan for a year, grow rice. If you plan for decades, grow trees. If you plan for centuries, grow human beings.” Mrs. McKinney demonstrates graphically and irrefutably that you can’t have one without the others. It is a beautiful affirmation.



One Response to “Farm Woman Update”

  1. Doug Kutilek Says:

    Mr. Bell–

    Your grandfather–farmer, Eagle pressroom worker, seven daughters, avid gardener, even the name–he sounds exactly like my grandfather! Which, of course, he was. I enjoyed reading your reviews and blog posts. Keep them coming.

    Glad to have you back in Kansas. I came back myself some 21 years ago, after a 16-year absence.


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