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Fresh Cow's Milk and Butter, Fresh Eggs, and Home-Canned Food? Why Not?

Monday 10 July 2017 at 9:44 pm.

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for August 3, 2017, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

            Some people believe that history repeats itself, in the sense that certain trends and/or commodities are popular for a certain length of time, then fade away, only to return some years later as “very trendy.”

            A case in point seems to be growing your own garden, putting up home-canned food, and raising a cow and a few chickens. Perhaps this trend has never left the farming area communities, but seems to be returning to the exurbs and to those suburbs where it is allowed (not everybody wants to live next door to a cow or a yard full of chickens). Back in the 1920’s, 1930’s, and even the 1940’s, it was fairly standard practice to have a cow pen and shed and a chicken yard full of chickens.

            Back in the 1940’s, we had a chicken yard full of chickens, a cow pen and shed with at least one cow, -- and even a pig pen with some pigs. And, I must add, we lived within City Limits. But everybody else did, too.

            Recently, a pastor in my Circuit, living in a parsonage, asked the church and his neighbors if he could raise chickens, and maybe a cow, on the property. Since the property had originally been bought so that pastors could do that, there was no problem getting permission from the congregation and from the neighbors. In Queens, New York, where my daughter and son-in-law live in a parsonage, if they tried that, based on the size of their yard, they could raise one chicken in the yard, and the cow would have to live in the basement of the house.

            But even in New York, the trendy thing is to grow and eat organic foods, and even learn how to can pickles the way Grandma did. Because of the preservatives in bought bread, homemade bread-makers are selling like hot cakes all over the country. Getting back to the basics, getting back to fresh air and trees, even if you have to go to Central Park to do so. And even in Manhattan, you can grow herbs in those wonderful cylinder contraptions that take up little space.

            By the time I was called to serve as pastor at St. Paul’s in Wallis, the church had sold its parsonage, and it was moved off the property. When the parsonage was first built in 1902 or 1903, a cow pen, cow shed, chicken yard and chicken house were part of the parsonage property; and the congregation gave every pastor they called a cow and a yard full of chickens. This was specified in the call document. If I remember correctly, the call document specified that the pastor would be given a set of window screens for the house if he didn’t bring any. And, of course, there was a very fertile garden plot for growing your own vegetables.

            In those days, 400 chickens were considered a large flock. I’m not sure exactly how many chickens were supplied to the pastor and his family, but in the early 1900’s, one hen could lay between 80 and 150 eggs per year. So how many chickens the pastor needed so that his family could have eggs all year depended on the size of his family, -- one problem being that hens were often unpredictable about whether they would lay or not. By the 1950’s, hens were laying up to 250 eggs a year, with Vitamin D added to the food (before that, winter brought on a Vitamin D deficiency).

            Now, the cow provided milk and butter for the pastor and his family, and the chickens provided eggs, but this didn’t solve the problem of a meat supply. If you ate your chickens, pretty soon you wouldn’t have any eggs to eat, so chicken meat was served as a great delicacy on special occasions. It wasn’t until the 1950’s that chicken meat stopped being a luxury. If you killed and ate your cow, you wouldn’t have any milk and butter to drink and eat. I’ve seen no record of what the congregation in Wallis did, but in my home congregation in Dime Box, farmers like my grandfather would give the pastor a quantity of bacon, ham and sausage each time they killed hog. Since members like my grandfather had little money, this was part of their tithe.

            Perhaps because we look back at those early days with envy as a time when people were healthier, and there were no preservatives in our foods, no antibiotics in our meat, no artificial fertilizer for our vegetables, and with pure, fresh milk to drink and newly churned butter for our homemade bread, and we think, ‘Why can’t we live like that?’ Why not?!


Ray Spitzenberger has retired after serving as pastor at St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, for 28 years, teaching in high school for 9 years and at Wharton County Junior College for 22.

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