By Wanda Morgan
My grandparents, Robert Francis Beaty and Georgia Anne Beaty, pioneered in Oklahoma not long after the government allowed homesteaders to claim land. They continued their pioneer lifestyle long after it became possible to use gas-powered machinery such as tractors and agricultural inputs. Grandpa had big draft horses instead of a tractor. He was also an organic farmer long before organic was cool. He understood soil and what it took to make it plant-friendly. He grew a wide variety of plants; some I remember; some, of course, I don't. My happiest childhood memories are of the summers I spent with them on their farm of about 350 acres in southern Oklahoma just north of the Texas border.
Organic Fruits and Nuts
Grandpa had some “bottom” land where he grew watermelons–huge ones, thanks to the long growing season. I can still remember the taste! He taught me how to determine whether a melon was ripe, and I still use what he taught me. There was a vigorous market for his melons. They were well-known for their size and quality and very popular. He also grew and sold peanuts. Grandma would keep some and we would sit around their fireplace in their tiny living room (in the house he had built himself) on cold winter evenings and eat roasted peanuts and apples crisp from the root cellar when we were there for wintertime visits. Some evenings it would be popcorn from his own corn field. It's the only time I ever saw corn popped on the cob! They kept a big orchard with a variety of fruits. Grandpa didn't know anything about sprays; he just knew how to keep the trees healthy and productive naturally. Grandma grew figs in her side yard. She had a kerosene lamp called an Aladdin that she was very proud of. It put out a steady white light as opposed to the yellow flicker of a standard oil lamp, and she could sit in the evenings and crochet or knit. She made all the clothes they wore on a treadle Singer sewing machine, and she knitted their socks
Grandpa grew sorghum cane and had it milled for their own use on a barter system. Instead of money, he would pay the sorghum mill in farm products. Perhaps he sold some of that sorghum; I don't know. He also kept bee hives, and Grandma always had honey in her kitchen. She didn't need to buy refined sugar with all the sources of sweetness from their own farm: sorghum, honey, and a wide choice of fruits.
An Independent Lifestyle
They chose to live without electricity. The home was heated with a big wood cooking stove in the kitchen plus the fireplace in the living room. They tended to get up with the dawn and go to bed when it turned dark. Grandma felt that it was immoral to be asleep if the sun was up, and she saw to it that all the grandchildren got that message. No malingerers in her house! They worked hard, but I remember a rich and full lifestyle, absolutely independent of the outside world. They didn't need anything or anyone.
Growing Your Own Bedding
Grandma had a flock of geese that she would pluck the down for bedding. All the bedding, from feather beds to pillows, was created by her own hands. I remember sleeping on a featherbed so soft and light that I confused it in my six-year-old perception with the heaven our Baptist preacher talked about. The geese didn't like my older brother and would chase him around the barn yard, and Grandma would laugh. She taught us to have strong backbones and to look after ourselves. No pampering in her house!
I know that my grandparents’ lifestyle is gone forever, but I still long for the flavor of their independence and the abundance made possible by their own strength and ingenuity. My own life has been very different, but I profited from the lessons they taught me about using my own resources and ingenuity to survive in a hostile world. I plant a small organic garden using some of the lessons I learned from them, and the vegetables and fruits I grow there give me just a little of the joys I remember on that extraordinary little farm.
By TTS Cofounder Botanical Chef Omid Jaffari