One of the challenges many early farmers had was pretty basic – clearing land. I remember on the family farm I grew up on, we had a large barn built entirely of Walnut wood. The Walnut wood came from when my great, great great grandfather (Lorenzo Lowe Frazier) clearing the land of Walnut trees when they settled the family farm and turned the trees into lumber for the barn. I always thought – wow, how cool it is to have a barn made out of Walnut, but I never really thought about how hard the work would have been to do this monumental task (especially with only axes and horses).
I got a little taste of this in clearing a new pasture on our farm, Kentucky Meadows. Now, the scale was completely different. My little field was a little less than an acre, while the bottom land my Lorenzo cleared out was over 60 acres. Also, I had this hand dandy tool called a chain saw. Lorenzo had an axe. Lorenzo must have been one tough guy!
This is a before picture, a mess of honeysuckle and small trees filled the pasture. It’s hard to see just how dense this is, but in places the honeysuckle was so thick and tangled that you could cut the trunks and the honeysuckle would remain standing, supported by the twisted tangle of branches reaching fifteen feet high.
The first year was spent cutting honeysuckle and small trees (pretty much anything less than six inches in diameter), cutting the good wood into firewood, and dragging the scraps into piles to be burned. Over the course of the year I cut about four cords of firewood, burned ten brush piles, and hand seeded an orchard grass and blue grass mix. Being the gentleman farmer I am – this pretty consumed my weekends while work consumed the week days. I estimate that I spent at least fifteen full weekends clearing the land, or about 30 days if I was doing it full time.
It was back breaking, tough, dirty work. And incredibly rewarding. To see a field go from a twisted tangle to a wooded pasture gave me an incredible sense of accomplishment. It was also incredible schizophrenic. During the week I worked with my brain, dealing with finances, technology, investors, and basically stretching my cranium muscle to the max. During the weekend, I exerted every muscle I had, sweating, straining muscles, getting a few injuries, and basically pushing myself physically to the max. And I love it.
Once the field was cleared, I moved a fence from one side of my property to the new pasture. This involved pulling up over twenty five-six inch posts and then digging twenty five more post holes and replanting the posts.
Then it was stretching wire, bracing corner posts, and putting in a gate. Finally, we put added the aesthetic touch by making it a three board fence. And this is where my project probably resembled Lorenzo’s project a lot. Because it was a family project. My son and wife helped build fence, and a young man who does some work for us, Mike, helped with pulling fence posts, scraping paint off the fence, etc. There is something even more rewarding when the family pitches in to create something together. Then it’s our project – not just my project.
Finished… except for fence painting!
In the end, we have this beautiful new pasture, some very happy goats, and the pride in knowing we have expanded the workable acreage of our farm. And this is where I bring it back to an appreciation for my ancestors. A project that took me almost a year to complete, was only a fraction of the project Lorenzo finished. But I felt this real kinship to him in that we both took rough land, and turned it into something that can be productive. Through the sweat of our own brow, the toil of our own physical labor, and the team effort of our families, we created something productive. We owe a debt of gratitude to all those settlers who spent back breaking years of labor clearing land, breaking sod, and doing the hard, physical labor that made the growth of our great country possible. It makes me proud to continue that tradition, if only in a small way. But I think I may hire a bulldozer to clear those back three acres!