Matfield Green - Our first years

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Charlie and Betty Swift

Charlie and Betty Swift are farmers in the old time family farm sense of the word. They are nearing 80 years old but that doesn't stop them from cultivating an acre or two of vegetables, tending cows and hens and thoroughly sustaining themselves from their labors. Once in awhile they'll pick up some extra cash mowing grass and trimming weeds (as they did for us in the early days of our bunkhouse ownership - that's Bill's son Willie pictured with them here).

Tom Armstrong once asked Charlie Swift if he'd ever worked for anybody. Charlie thought just a moment and replied, "My dad."

Their farm is on the Rogler Road just about 2 miles northwest of town. I drove out just before noon to see if they'd let me poke around their garden, see what they'd got growing and see what I could learn. When I arrived Charlie was sitting in an easy chair in the kitchen, stocking footed with the well-worn running shoes he works in discarded nearby. Betty was laying the table for lunch.

Not very polite to visit farmers at high noon, I suppose.

But they didn't seem to mind. They waved me out to the garden - where I saw wonderous sights, indeed. The five inch head of broccolli amazed me the most. Nearly mature cabbages. Rows of lettuce. Onion after onion after onion. Need I mention tomatoes, potatoes, rows and rows of corn already 6 or eight inches high, peppers, carrots, and somebody sure must love radishes.

Back in the kitchen they were in no hurry to eat and no hurry to see me go. Charlie talked more than I'd ever heard. His eyes were literally sparkling as he listened joyfully and respectfully as his wife started a story, then joining in to tell me from his point of view about the tornado that tipped the shed over minutes after he parked his tractor and ran for the cover of the cellar.

"This fool didn't know what he was seeing," chided Betty, managing, somehow, to say it kindly.

We talked about cell phones - "Those tiny little things, and my nephews are out there in the driveway calling West Virginia and Chicago!"

We talked about seedlings. They buy most of their plants in El Dorado, though when the weather gets warm enough Betty starts a few tomotoes and peppers in pots .

They don't grow peas anymore or strawberries - they take too much time to pick.

And we talked about lettuce. Betty wanted to know if I had learned any interesting ways of fixing it up in Chicago. She may have been disappointed to learn that I am partial to just olive oil and vinegar with a dash of salt and pepper. Charlie has exotic tastes in lettuce: he likes to dip the leaves in cream and sugar with a little bit of vinegar to sour it. And Betty is likes wilted lettuce, dressed with bacon grease and onions.

Betty is a regular at the small Farmers Market in Strong City - early in the season she is sometimes the only vendor. As I left she lay down the guantlet - "Maybe you'll give me some competition," she smiled.

Maybe next year, Betty. Maybe next year. For now I plan to pop in often and learn what I can from the Masters.


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