September 7, 2007

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Indiana’s a home where the buffalo roam

Cynthia DewesHarvest season has arrived for many farmers in Indiana. Hunting and gathering may have morphed into advertising and selling in the city, but they’ve not lost favor out in the country. Farmers provide our food, enrich our environment and offer a stable lifestyle for their families.

According to the Farmers’ Almanac, America’s farmers are the most productive in the world, feeding 146 people per farm annually and employing 17 percent of the total U.S. workforce.

Texas, Missouri, Tennessee, Kentucky and Oklahoma have the most farms. This may surprise some Hoosiers who thought we had more farms than we should if we want to be considered a “with it” place.

But despite the fact that sophisticates like to chide Indiana for having the most smokers, the most obesity, a worrisome brain drain, and corn and soybeans as far as the eye can see, Indiana folks are not just a bunch of hicks.

Nor are modern Indiana farmers, who’ve gone high tech. They actually use computers, cell phones and even global positioning systems (GPS) to decide where to plant and where to apply pesticides, if needed.

Almost every farm kid and even the local town kids in Indiana belong to 4-H, and county and state fairs are the biggest social/professional events of the summer. Maybe that’s because (again, reading from the Almanac) we learn that 99 percent of American farms are still family-owned in some fashion.

Not only that, but Indiana farmers are downright interesting. Out here in Putnam County alone, we have a buffalo (a.k.a. bison) farm and two elk farms, in addition to the more ordinary dairy and beef cattle herds. Which may cause some people to wonder, why would farmers choose to raise and sell products so different from the usual kinds?

For one thing, the meat from these animals is a healthier red meat because it’s low in fat, cholesterol and calories as well as high in protein, vitamins and minerals. It tastes a lot like beef and can be substituted for it in most recipes. I can also attest to the fact that it’s delicious.

For another reason, buffalo and elk are just neat animals to look at. I mean, they’ll beat plain old cows or steers for style any time. The bison at the buffalo farm have their names carved on the fence, and when they appear, looming above their titles in the flesh as it were, they’re awesome. I can’t believe the Native Americans hunted them on foot.

The elk are not as huge as the bison, but they are stately and elegant. One elk farmer said perhaps the males stand in such a magnificent posture because they need to stand erect in order to balance their huge racks of horns. The female elk must think they’re pretty cute, too, because one male will have as many as 60 cows in his “family.”

Besides meat, elk products include medicinal remedies made from the “velvet” on the males’ antlers. This substance is used for arthritis, for increasing strength and for improving the immune system. Veterinarians use elk products to treat animals as well. Who knew?

Particularly at this harvest time of year, we should remember that, no matter what kind of farming they do, farmers are a treasure we need to preserve. Scripture says, “You are the salt of the earth” (Mt 5:13).

Surely that must refer to those who nurture the good creation which God has given us.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.) †

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