Icon of Agriculture Past

When I grew up there was a prosperous agriculture society out there in rural America.   There were lots of small and medium-sized towns full of businesses that supported farm families.  You could find  schools scattered across the countryside to educate the farmer’s  children.  Each community would have an elevator for the local farmer’s co-op.   The farmers used this to store and transport their corn, grain and other commodities.


Abandoned grain elevator in Winnett, Montana

In the years since I was a child we have continued to become more efficient in agriculture as a results there are fewer  farms and ranches, and the ones that are out there are larger.

Today producers, ranchers and farmers, are growing more food than their grandfather’s could have imagined.  In spite of the changes of time one thing has not changed, the  life of a producer is at the mercy of the winds of nature.    A farmer works from sun up to sun down and livestock never takes a vacation.   Today the economics of being in agriculture are hard and many people not only run their farm operation, they also hold a second job to make ends meet and even up the ups and downs of crop and animal prices, hail, drought, lost livestock and so much more we can’t imagine.   Given a choice more and more folks are choosing to move to the city rather take on the challenges of being a producer.

Today with  fewer folks choosing the rural life small towns are dying.   When a small town dies not only are businesses loss, but many of the local elevators are being abandoned in favor of larger more centralized elevators.   Small elevators  are  an icon of the past; an icon of agriculture.  Just like barns, you see fewer of them across the countryside.   They are being abandoned and falling into disrepair.  Someday like old farm houses and old barns they will fall down and will no longer be there to remind of the all the people who came before and work out there today to feed the world.




Family Owned Stores

Our family owned local ranch supply has been sold to a larger group of stores.  It makes me sad, but reminds how often this happens.   A family starts a business, become successful and well thought of in their community.  The kids start their own lives and  are not interested in the family business.  When retirement time comes the business is sold or closed.

I have been thinking about the little town of 4,000  where I grew up and all the family owned businesses.   They lined Main Street for blocks .   You knew the owners, the staff and they knew you.   If there was more than one of the same business you often picked one and shopped only there.  It was like picking to own only a Chevy or a Ford.   You were dead loyal to the one you choose.   It could have been because your family had always shopped there, or they had been kind or helpful in hard times.  Seldom, but occasionally it did happen and there was  falling out and you would change stores, never to return.

There were two ladies shops the KEM Shop and Pittenger’s.  I am not sure what KEM stood for but  I remember they had lots of slips and hose that were sold in those flat boxes.  Pittenger’s was a little more hip, and I got my first polo from there, though I doubt that is what they were called.

There were also two men’s stores Buikema-Blass and Frost’s.   My dad bought his only suit from Buikema’s and my husband still stores his suit in the garment bag that dad’s suit came in with the store logo on the front.  I guess suits were like hats they all came with a storage system when you bought them.   Mr. Frost was a dapper fellow, lived alone, played the piano, and was likely gay though we would have never talked about that in those days.

Our little town was deeply religious and you did not do anything on a Sunday.   We had two pharmacies one who was even open Sunday for a hour so you could get the newspaper.  It was quite blasphemous and many folks would never step foot into Fitzgerald’s drug store, because they committed the sin of doing business on Sunday. Our family was either a little less religious or desperate for news, as we always stopped by and got our newspaper on the way home from church.

There are many other instances of this; the two grocery stores Wilken’s and Red & White, who both delivered, and had real in-store butchers;  the shoe store, the bakery, the dairy, the cafes  and the list goes on.   None of them are there any longer.

Some were in the family for generations, others sold to key employees and hung around for a little longer, but all of them gone.  Retail is a hard business, and small business is even harder.  It hasn’t gotten any easier with the passage of time.  We continue to loose small businesses yet today.  I am sorry to see my ranch supply change hands, but I wish the family the best in their retirement.