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DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH Feed Sack and Fashion

Pine Mountain Settlement School
DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH
Feed Sack

DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH Feed Sack and Fashion

feedsack_007.jpg

“Style Thrifty,” says the sewing instruction booklet. And the cloth was thrifty, and durable, and easy to handle, but it was limited in size. [feedsack_007.jpg]

HISTORY

Poultry and feed sacks often go together. One could almost say many a feed sack has been present when chicken and dumplings were being prepared. Feed sack aprons were a common household item in Appalachia and in other areas of the country beginning in the period just before the War Between the States.

These early “feed bags” were not the colorful and patterned items that most of us are familiar with today. The early bags were generally tightly woven and more like contemporary canvas. They were neutral or white and without patterns but often stamped with the supplier or owner stamp. Some of the earliest bags may be recognized by a circular pattern that was commonly used to identify the manufacturer of food staples such as flour. The early bags could be re-filled and were patched and used until they were no longer of service. They were instituted to reduce the cost of the standard wooden or tin containers that were problematic due to rust and leakage. But, the new bags were not without their issues — some physical and some societal. 

FEED SACK GAINS IN POPULARITY

The beginning of the popularity of the cotton bag is generally agreed to have been around the 1840s. When a “stitching machine” was invented and the bags could be sewn tightly closed using a double locking seam, the cotton bag was adopted for a variety of carrying processes and their number increased. As cotton became more available and reduced in price, and with mechanized weaving, the sewing machine, and the low cost of slave labor, cotton bags proliferated. During the Civil War, the “feed bags” were used for various transport jobs. The second half of the eighteenth century saw creative industries start to add decorative prints to the bags and by the end of the century, there were several mills that were experimenting with the production of inexpensive and attractive cotton cloth.

Further, the cloth bags were now being produced in a variety of sizes — not just in barrel size — and for more far-ranging uses. The barrel was, however, still in evidence on some bags as the circular imprimatur of the manufacturer was often the same size as the barrel top. The stamped name of the company was often hard to remove and there are many instances when the stamp of the company was left on a homemade shirt or a kitchen apron. During this time the weave of the cloth began to become more varied. The sturdy “canvas” weave gave way to a variety of less heavy and dense weaves and took its weave from the intended use and size. Depending on the contents, the bags could vary greatly. The lighter weave, such as that found on flour sacks was ideally preferred for home sewing.

As the uses of the bags expanded, so did the bag variety. The flour sacks, meal sacks, sugar sacks, salt sacks, as well as animal mash and grains — sometimes called “scratch” sacks — could all be recognized to some degree. The flour sack was the most common of the bags produced, as flour made up around 42% of the bagged goods; 17% of sugar could be purchased in a bag. Both these home staples meant that women could shop with a sewing project in mind. Women also learned quickly which bags were the most durable and could withstand continuous washings. They could also purchase similar patterns to expand their creative needs or aim for larger bag sizes. The manufacturers paid attention. 

RECYCLABLES — MANUFACTURERS RETHINK THE “FEED SACK” 

When the cotton market collapsed in the second decade of the twentieth century it was due in part to the invention of rayon and other synthetics and new weaving inventions that allowed for woven patterns, not just stamped printed patterns. The drop in cotton increased the market for cotton bags and from around 1914 forward there was a proliferation of the cotton sack. 

With the increased manufacture came a sensitivity to the re-purposing of the used bags and new and more sophisticated patterns imitating contemporary trends began to appear on the sacks. Women were often the household shoppers and many saw the recyclable potential of the sacks almost immediately. Matching patterns and competition for popular patterns were common. Households with large families or farming families with many livestock could accumulate bags rapidly and soon there was a market for “surplus” bags. Many stores would re-purchase and re-sell the surplus bags. This activity only increased the creative designs and the manufactures began to produce booklets with patterns for bags or made suggestions for the use of string for crocheting. Coming up with an inventive apron was a favorite diversion and conversation piece for many women who regularly relied on aprons. 

Today, the handmade apron has largely become a rarity in the household. The versatile feed sack is even rarer. The many household items made from recycled feed bags were remarkable: Aprons, dishtowels, pot-holders, pajamas, dresses for growing children, pillowcases, quilts, curtains, pajamas, tablecloths, dishtowels, and a myriad of other useful household items. The uses of this second-hand material were endless for many families. The original bags that often held chicken feed — hence the name “feed sack” — and other animal food were prized enough to often be squirreled away in hopes they would go into a quilt. Feed sack from the mountain home has long been a favorite “treasure” for many descendants who “remember the days…”

Cotton bags, as the brochure below describes the cloth, was inexpensive and could be relatively durable cloth. It “could be” relatively durable due to the variation of cotton quality and the weave which could be quite loose and prone to snag and wear quickly or tightly woven of strong thread and with good stability. Homemakers looked for more durable bags. For many household needs, the feed sack was an extra bonus when feeding livestock and it was not unusual for farm families to brag about the utility of the cloth and how they had used it in their home.  When everything on the clothesline was made from feed sack — that was utility AND craft!

Imagine, if you will, a clothesline of the patterns below waving in the afternoon sun and a gay, handmade apron on the woman gathering the laundry that smelled of Ivory flakes… That is how I remember my Grandmother Hall. Many of the patterns below came from her collection. 

HOW TO DETERMINE IF IT IS FEEDSACK CLOTH

It’s not as easy as you might think to identify feed sack fabric.  The paper labels were easily removed from a feed sack and even with older ones the label has often been removed.  A course weave is not a good indicator as fabric like this could also be bought off the bolt as well.  The best indicator is a line of holes from the chain stitching that once held the sack together. However, this tell-tale indicator might be the first thing removed by the sewer.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  1. Adrosko, R. J. (1992). “The fashion’s in the bag: Recycling feed, flour, and sugar sacks during the middle decades of the 20th century. In Reconstructing daily life through historic documents.” Symposium conducted at the Third Symposium of the Textile Society of America.
  2. A Few Sacks More. Textile Research Center, Leiden, Netherlands. https://www.trc-leiden.nl/trc-digital-exhibition/index.php/for-a-few-sacks-more EXHIBIT.How feedsacks clothed and warmed Americans during the Depression, and later.6121192805298418.
  3. Banning, Jennifer Lynn. “Feed Sack Fashions in South Louisiana, 1949–1968: The Use of Commodity Bags in Garment Construction.” Baton Rouge, La.: Louisiana State University, 2005.
  4. Blair, Todd, and Karen Garvey. Flour Sack Dresses and Victory Stamps: Tales from the Good Old Days in Roanoke and the New River Valley of Virginia: a Treasury of 20th Century Memories. 2016. Pages 63, 117, 134, 161, 208.
  5. Brandes, Kendra (2009-01-01). “Feed Sack Fashion in Rural America: A Reflection of Culture”Online Journal of Rural Research & Policy4 (1). doi:10.4148/ojrrp.v4i1.59ISSN 1936-0487.
  6. Connolly, Loris (1992). “Recycling Feed Sacks and Flour Bags: Thrifty Housewives or Marketing Success Story?”. Dress19 (1): 17–36. doi:10.1179/03
  7. Glass, Fr. Floyd. Children in Guilin, China, 1948. University of Southern California. Libraries, n.d.
  8. History of Flour Sack Towels – from 1800’s to 1950’s [sic]”Mary’s Kitchen flour sack towels.
  9. Jones, Lu Ann; Park, Sunae (1993). “From Feed Bags to Fashion”. Textile History24 (1): 91–103. doi:10.1179/004049693793712213.
  10. Mable and Ethel’s Quilt Shoppe “History of the 1930’s Feedsack” Accessed March 10, 2021. Thanks as well to the Buchanan County, Ohio Historical Society for their contributions to the history of feedsack cloth.
  11. McCray, Linzee Kull (2016). Feed Sacks: The Colourful History of a Frugal Fabric, Calgary: Uppercase Publishing Inc.
  12. National Museum of American History Behring Collection Example of dress made by Mrs. G. R. (Dorothy) Overall of Caldwell, Kansas, in 1959 for the Cotton Bag Sewing Contest sponsored by the National Cotton Council and the Textile Bag Manufacturers Association. 
  13. Nixon, Gloria (2015). Rag Darlings: Dolls from the Feedsack Era, Kansas City: Kansas City Star Quilts.
  14.  Onion, Rebecca (2017-07-21). “How Depression-Era Women Made Dresses Out of Chicken Feed”Slate Magazine. Retrieved 2020-03-20
  15. PK: Our first hundred years. (1985). Percy Kent Bag Company, Inc.: Kansas City, MO.
  16. Rhoades, R. (1997). “Feed sacks in Georgia: Their manufacture, marketing, and consumer use”. Uncoverings, 18, 121–152.
  17. Shaw-Smith, David, Conor McAnally, Jolyon Jackson, and Sally Shaw-Smith. Irish Patchwork. 2003.
  18. The Vintage Traveler. “Sewing With Cotton Bags” https://thevintagetraveler.wordpress.com/2015/07/28/sewing-with-cotton-bags-1937/ Accessed March 10, 2021
  19. Walton, Frank L. (1945). Thread of Victory, New York: Fairchild Publishing Co.
  1.  Onion, Rebecca (2017-07-21). “How Depression-Era Women Made Dresses Out of Chicken Feed”Slate Magazine. Retrieved 2020-03-20.
  2. Banning, Jennifer Lynn. “Feed Sack Fashions in South Louisiana, 1949–1968: The Use of Commodity Bags in Garment Construction.” Baton Rouge, La.: Louisiana State University, 2005.
  3. Brandes, Kendra (2009-01-01). “Feed Sack Fashion in Rural America: A Reflection of Culture”Online Journal of Rural Research & policy4 (1). doi:10.4148/ojrrp.v4i1.59ISSN 1936-0487.
  4. “History of Flour Sack Towels – from 1800’s to 1950’s [sic]”Mary’s Kitchen flour sack towels.
  5. “Feedsack Dress”National Museum of American History. Retrieved 2020-03-20.
  6. Unidentified. Man wearing pants made out of a flour sack, China, c. 1905 – 1910. University of Southern California. Libraries, 1904.
  7. Glass, Fr. Floyd. Children in Guilin, China, 1948. University of Southern California. Libraries, n.d.
  8. Shaw-Smith, David, Conor McAnally, Jolyon Jackson, and Sally Shaw-Smith. Irish Patchwork. 2003.
  9. Nixon, Gloria. Rag Darlings: Dolls from the Feedsack Era. Kansas City Star Quilts, 2015.

10. Lee, Heather Vaughn.  Make Do: Feed-Sack Fashion in the First Half of the Twentieth Century https://pieceworkmagazine.com/make-do-feed-sack-fashion-in-the-first-half-of-the-twentieth-century/

 

 

DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH Poultry

DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH VI 

DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH  Poultry

TAGS:  Dancing in the Cabbage Patch, poultry, chickens, eggs, Pine Mountain Settlement School, Harlan County, KY; farming; farms; foodways; Rhode Island Reds; roosters; sheep, Rhode Island Whites, Leghorns, William Hayes, Glyn Morris, Katherine Pettit, chicken houses, foodways, chicken and dumplings,

CHICKEN ‘N DUMPLINGS

When dairy farming was no longer viable at Pine Mountain, the school farm returned to earlier farm ventures, including poultry. The raising of sheep was another bucolic adventure but the brief trial of raising sheep placed too much stress on the local flora and available pasture-land. Further, complications with hoof disease from the constant damp fog and rain in the valley created ongoing health problems for the sheep. Though there are many pictures of sheep on farms in the valley in the early years, the number of sheep on local farms had dramatically declined by the 1940’s.  It is likely that hoof disease was part of the problem in maintaining sheep herds just as it was for the later sheep farming experiments at Pine Mountain School. But, two other issues worked against the raising of sheep.

Before turning to poultry as the main focus, the work with sheep was reviewed in full.  There were complications with hoof disease from the constant damp fog and rain in the valley created ongoing health problems for the sheep. Though there are many pictures of sheep on farms in the valley in the early years, the number of sheep on local farms had dramatically declined by the 1940’s.  It is likely that hoof disease was part of the problem in maintaining sheep herds just as it was for the later sheep farming experiments at Pine Mountain School. But, two other issues worked against the raising of sheep.  One was the increasing institution of laws governing free-ranging livestock.  The fencing of sheep furthered the burden on local farm-land and promoted erosion of hillsides.  Secondly, the introduction of cheap commercial fabrics was rapidly reducing the need for wool and home weaving was no competition for the industrial mill.  Mountain sheep wool was notoriously full of brambles and dirt.  It had little market appeal as it was expensive to process. Sheep started to no longer be considered necessary farm animals in the view of local households and mutton was not high in the diet of the southern Appalachian, nor had it ever been. Sheep were, clearly,  not an option at Pine Mountain School.

Harriet Butler feeding chicken and chicks at iron pot cooker at Medical Settlement, Big Laurel. X_099_workers_2497_mod.jpg

Harriet Butler feeding chicken and chicks at iron pot cooker at Medical Settlement, Big Laurel. X_099_workers_2497_mod.jpg

Poultry, on the other hand, had and have a long and tenacious hold on Appalachian families.  At Pine Mountain School, poultry farming had always played a role in supplying the school with eggs and meat. Of all the farming initiatives, chickens proved to be the most continuous animal husbandry venture at the School.   This may have been due to the fact that chickens are relatively easy to manage and the yield in eggs over the life of the healthy hen can be considerable.   Even today fresh eggs from family chicken flocks are a part of many households in the Pine Mountain community.

There are some memorable images of staff workers with chickens that suggest that they were an integral part of the operation of the School at the very beginning and remained so through most of its history.  The same was true at the various satellite settlements near Pine Mountain.   The following photograph of the Big Laurel Medical Center nurse, Harriet Butler, feeding chickens from her split hickory basket at the Medical Settlement in Big Laurel, suggests the close attention given this food source.

Chickens tended by early staff. II_7_barn_275a

Chickens (White Leghorns) tended by early staff. II_7_barn_275a

The hen and her chicks feeding next to the large iron pot has a certain irony as these pots were often used to cook up a good chicken stew or chicken ‘n dumplings.   In the earliest years at Pine Mountain School and in the satellite settlements, the kitchens were outdoors, or partly outdoors.  The staff cooked in large iron kettles such as the one seen above.  Generally rigged on a tripod or from a trestle, the heavy pot could be used to feed large groups and served as a kind of “crock-pot” that could slow cook food and tenderize that extra tough rooster. Chicken ‘n dumplings was a popular meal prepared in these large communal pots. Not all iron pots were equal, however. It would not eat well to follow soap-making with chicken ‘n dumplings.

HOUSING THE FLOCK

Poultry farming at Pine Mountain had many levels of sophistication.  From the beginning, the School maintained a large flock of chickens for both eggs and for chicken ‘n dumplings, and other poultry related meals.  At first, only fences protected the flock and staff were given the responsibility of maintaining the flock and watching after their welfare, particularly attacks by predators — of which there were many including fox, great-horned owls, weasels, and bobcats.

Later, chicken houses kept the flock safe from fox and other marauders and like the Ayrshire herd, the flock was expanded. Various chicken breeds were favored over others for their egg production or for their meat quality, just as cows were sorted out for their milk quantity or its butter-fat content.

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Chicken House. c. late 1930’s early 40’s. Note rockwork.

While milk was considered the most important food in the diet of the Appalachian family, eggs made a close second.  It was for a reason.  Milk and eggs came from herds and flocks that were relatively easy and inexpensive to maintain if food could be found.  It was also possible to grow the cow into a herd with the help of a bull and the small flock of chickens could produce the next generation of egg-layers with a little help from a rooster. A mountain family could often make-do with one good cow and a small flock of chickens.  The two staples, milk and eggs also provided a sound source of protein for a minimum cost among mountain families.

[From an early staff letter. n.d, probably c. 1914 or 1916]

“This spring we have at last a herd of cows and a dairy. Two weeks ago our six new cows and bull, all Jerseys, were sent up from the Bluegrass, and today we had our first dessert made entirely of milk and eggs, we have a large chicken house and two incubators and have raised fifty-six chickens from the first batch.   Two hundred more Leghorns are to come in from the out­side world, and we think that by the end of the summer we will have 400 chickens.  One worker devotes all her time to the care of the poultry and she has the most intelligent assistance from one of our older boys, age 15.”

While this may not be the “milk and eggs recipe” referred to in the worker’s notes, the following recipe is one that was favored by later Home Economics classes.

May 1935, as recorded in The Pine Cone. 

CHOCOLATE PUDDING

3         cups of milk
1          cup of sugar
3         teaspoons of cocoa
1/8     teaspoon of salt
7 1/2  Tablespoons of flour
1/2     teaspoon flavoring
1         egg may be used

Heat the milk in the top of a double boiler.  Have water in the lower kettle under the milk.  In a bowl mix the sugar, cocoa, salt, and flour until thoroughly mixed.  When the milk is scalding hot add slowly to the ingredients in the bowl stirring all the time.  Return it to the double boiler, stir while it thickens for about 10 minutes.  Then let it cook 20 minutes more.  If the egg is to be added add some of the chocolate mixture to the beaten egg.  When mixed return to double boiler to cook two minutes.  Remove from fire.  Let cool slightly and add flavoring.  Serve with cream.


The Rhode Island White , now an endangered breed and few now existing, enjoyed wide-spread popularity in the 1920’s and 30’s for the  abundant white eggs produced by the flocks. Similar to the Wyandotte, the Rhode Island White was bred from the  White Wyandotte, the Partridge Cochin and the Rose Comb White Leghorn.  Like the Leghorns it was a robust chicken but was prized for its high egg production as well as its full-bodied meat. In 1922 it was admitted to the American Poultry Association’s Standard of Perfection when the national conference convened in Knoxville, Tennessee. Many mountain families and farmers were introduced to it at that time.

However, with the industrialization of chicken farming, many breeds were sidelined in preference for a few rapidly growing hybrids, particularly the popular Rhode Island Red chicken. The Rhode Island White slowly slipped from memory.  Today the Livestock Conservancy has instituted a movement to recognize “Heritage Chickens” and counts the Rhode Island White among some three-dozen species facing extinction. Today the population of Rhode Island Whites is less than 3000 according to the Livestock Conservancy. Rhode Island Reds could take over the chicken kingdom in just a few cock-sdoodle-do’s.

All this discussion of the merits of chickens was not missed on Katherine Pettit in1932 and she cried fowl to Glyn Morris who had taken over as the new Director of the School and rankled at the proliferation of Rhode Island Reds.  Apparently, Pettit followed the future of chicken breeds quite differently from the farmer and from Morris and more in line with the growing trend in the larger market.  Quickly, Morris wrote to the President of the Board regarding the rationale for retaining the older breed and laid out the argument  — and Miss Pettit’s preference.

May 15, 1932

Mr. Darwin D. Martin
Martin Trust Building
Buffalo, N.Y.

Dear Mr. Martin: 

In regards to Miss Pettit’s discussion against White Leghorn hens, I should like to say this:  we have hens primarily for the purpose of producing eggs.  White Leghorns have been developed for egg laying. The Rhode Island Reds that were here when I came weren’t worth the room they were taking. There is a difference in the weight of these two classes of hens, but not near enough to warrant keeping Rhode Island Reds in order to have a little more meat when they are finally killed. 

The White Leghorns have been laying without a break since December.  Reds would have broken long ago. 

Sincerely, 

Glyn Morris

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Yet, by the middle of the 1940’s when the School attempted to make the poultry farm commercially productive it was already out of step with the growing industrial cycle of poultry farming.  Too late for small-scale poultry markets and too small to compete with the growing number of large scale operations that began to supply markets throughout the country, Pine Mountain’s poultry farm efforts were not successful on a scale that could recover costs.  The possibility of moving poultry farming into a commercial realm had been discussed many times as a means to save the School farm, but the timing, the times, the law and the market were not in the School’s favor.

Even when the farm turned to egg production for commercial purposes it struggled.  Like sheep farming, and like other farming practices in the remote valley, the commercial production of eggs, proved to be too complicated in the new tightly controlled egg markets. Transportation to market and the competition of the market and government regulations created additional costs and burdens on the operation of a large-scale chicken farm.  By 1953, the poultry farming initiative had run its course. It was challenged by too many obstacles and was clearly faltering.

Poultry farming for meat had become even more daunting than for eggs as the rules and regulations surrounding the slaughter of meat or even the sale of live chickens was increasingly bureaucratic regulated for health standards that required additional equipment and manpower. Small operations found themselves squeezed out of the market.  The larger poultry farms could produce eggs more cheaply through mechanized means and the costly regulations that limited the sale of poultry meat through the open market through complicated and expensive federal and state laws could be absorbed by larger poultry operations.  The new markets and burdensome regulations were part of the “new” agriculture in the State and there was little room even for entrepreneurs to have a go at the rapidly changing commodity market.  The new market was the end of Pine Mountain’s sale of poultry meat and eventually to its sale of eggs, as well.

For some, the end of the chicken yard could not have come fast enough.  Anyone who has had any long-standing relationship with a chicken yard knows that roosters come with most flocks as they were used to selectively fertilized eggs that hatched out the new flocks.  Often aggressive, these rulers of the roost, the “rooster,” made a trip to the chicken yard a frightening experience.   Flogging of intruders was common and generally tolerated to a point but excessive aggression could easily find the rooster in a savory Sunday stew — though seldom was it bragged that the meal was “Rooster ‘n Dumplings as roosters were not known to be the tender type.

POULTRY – SELECTIVE  BREEDING

In 1935 the breeding of chickens was an important topic in the industrial training program of the boarding school.  Here Students learned about the health of the flock, its comparative worth as a meat, about best egg breeds and how to kill and butcher a chicken.  The following is an excerpt from The Pine Cone, May 1935, written by a student.

“One of the most fascinating problems connected with poultry management is the problem of breeding…

Some of the fundamental factors to consider are as follows; (1) Breed only purebred birds  (if possible) of a well-established breed…. (2) Breed only from heavy producers. These are the birds that molt late in the fall.   They are easily recognized by their healthy appearance and active dispositions.  They are alert, bright-eyed, red combed and go singing happily far afield in search of food.  Upon closer examination of the toe-nails will be found to be worn; the vent large, pale light pink, or upon long extra heavy production, bluish-white , soft and moist;  the color faded or blacked from the eye ring, ear lobes, beak and shanks of the Mediterranean class, such as Leghorn and Minorcas; the pelvis bones long, thin, pliable and wide apart.  These are the two bones located on either side of the vent.  The egg must pass between these bones when it is laid.  Consequently, with increased production, there is an increased distance between these bones.  There is also a considerable distance between these bones and the keel or breast bone; the comb is smooth, full bright red in color, and has a waxy appearance. (3) Breed from mature birds both male and female. (4) Breed from birds with good appetites and with large well-formed bodies …”

White Leghorn chickens  were good as a meat source, but as an egg producer, they excelled.  The breed is known to produce from 250 to 300 eggs per year.  This high production was a significant contribution to Pine Mountain’s breakfast and other menus.

ON THE TABLE

The following recipe found in the May 1935  issue of The Pine Cone was used in the Home Economics and Practice House fare.

SCALLOPED EGGS

6          hard cooked eggs
1          cup bread crumbs
2 Tbs   butter or chopped chicken [fat].
1 1/2    cooked material  [see below]
3          cups milk
6 Tbs   flour
4 1/2 T butter
3 tsp    salt

The cooked material may be spaghetti, potatoes, ground ham, cracker crumbs, flaked fish …   Arrange the sliced eggs and other material in layers in an oiled baking dish.  Pour the white sauce over the mixture, cover with crumbs and dot with the first amount of butter given and brown in a moderate oven.  Serve in the baking dish.

To make the white sauce, melt the fat in a pan, add flour, mix well and add milk, stirring as it thickens. Add salt.


The Second World War also put severe limits on poultry farming, as many of the young men who worked on the farm at Pine Mountain went to war, and the local chicken stock was reduced due to rampant diseases that killed many of the brood at the School and in the surrounding community.  The disease, probably coccidiosis, possibly parasites, such as worms, or mites, were all common in chickens of the era and particularly in flocks that were tightly confined.  Any of these diseases can cause a wasting of the chicken and most of the diseases remained in the soil for some time.  The parasites and coccidiodosis can only be combated by cleaning and removing the chickens and their houses. Severe cold or heat can slow the progression of some of the diseases, but such severe cold can also kill the flock.  Permethrin, an unhealthy chemical solution, and quick lime were used effectively for a while at Pine Mountain, but mites and other parasites continued to persist in the flock and thrive in the damp mountain environment and in the confinement of the chicken-houses. Raising chickens in quantity required diligence.

Though maintenance of the flock was difficult at Pine Mountain it soon became clear that chickens were one staple that would keep the school eating during the difficult war years and pursuit of a remedy to the chicken disease should be sought.  In March 1943, Pine Cone, published the following article

“CHICKEN AND DUMPLINGS TO BE SERVED ONCE AGAIN”

“With meat rationing and rising prices on eggs, Pine Mountain is going to purchase five hundred baby chicks. 

The school is getting ready to make room for five hundred baby chicks which will be bought [as] soon as their new house has been constructed.  Blue-prints have already been drawn for the brooder house which will be twelve by fourteen feet. 

It will be located on the north side of the road [the road to Line Fork] near where the other chicken house used to be.

In another five to ten weeks, a larger house will be built to make more room for them as they grow larger.  In the meantime, the students should not grow impatient, for it is just a streak of luck to have chickens again. In the three preceding years it was impossible to have them because of a disease which kills them, and which remains in the soil for several years afterward. “

hayes_IMAG0147_cropedWhile the stories abound regarding the Ayrshire herd and the long history of acquisition and maintenance of the herd, the nurturing of chicken flocks at Pine Mountain is also has a long history.  In the Pine Mountain Community if one asks a mountain family about chickens, the stories, abound.  The rooster that terrified the children with his long spurs and fierce territorial aggression;  the slippery slopes of the chicken yard after a rain ; the particular way the grandmother wrung the neck of the chicken or how she chopped off its head ; the smell of wet chickens in their yard in the heat of summer; the night the fox found the chicken house; how the skunk stole chicken eggs; why crows steal eggs; the black snake in the chicken nest, and many more tales that run like colorful threads through the history woven into so many mountain families.

Following the brief attempts to resurrect large-scale farming at Pine Mountain through sheep and poultry, the Pine Mountain Board of Trustees in 1951 called for a thorough analysis of the farm at the school. The so-called Chang study, “Whither Pine Mountain,” while not centered on the farm aloneaddressed industrialization and the issues of the farm head-on. In 1951 industrialization would be the winner and it would forever change the direction of the School and its integral links to traditional farming.

During the Morris and later the Benjamin years, the margins of profit for the farm were small, but the educational value of farm practice supported the farm program and the two Directors put their energy behind the farm efforts. Too, both Morris and Benjamin had been raised on a farm and knew the issues associated with managing a farm and the discipline that was required to maintain a well-run farm-school.  Both realized the farm’s educational value. Morris clearly wanted to retain the farm program, but also began to have his doubts regarding the financial viability of the program as the School struggled to maintain a boarding school and compete with the growth of local schools for students. By the end of H.R.S. Benjamin’s tenure, the financial picture at the School had changed markedly and the educational programs had shifted to non-residential programming which eliminated the farm work-force. The Trustees called in several consultants and evaluated the costs of the farm operation against the sustainability of the School.  The 1951 Fu Liang Chang Survey of PMSS , particularly, signaled an end to farming as it had once been exercised at the School. The economics of the Study indicated a downward spiral for small scale farming in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky and elsewhere in the nation. Pine Mountain’s demonstration work was not enough the bring new and effective farming methods to the mountains. Geography and efficiency were clearly at odds and more clearly the farm was in trouble as a model as few in the community could afford to invest in the machinery to maintain the increased scale of farming methods that would produce a profit.

Chang wrote:

The School farm has been facing an acute problem of labor since 1949, moving from over-supply to scarcity through the change from a boarding high school to a consolidated primary school. It was compelled to purchase a number of items of labor-saving machinery to run the farm. It has gradually changed its management with major emphasis as a practicing farm to that of a community testing and demonstration farm, with not a great deal of success so far. The subsistence farmers feel that the school can well afford to purchase the equipment which would not suit their farms of a few acres apiece. This has kept further apart the school farm and the subsistence farms of the community. It seems that the problem before the school farm is how to break down its agricultural improvement program into many small projects, some of which will meet the needs of the subsistence farms and the supplementary farms of wage-earners, and how, in cooperation with the county agent and the community organizer (after one is installed), 4-H Clubs and other rural organizations, to “sell” these projects to the community. Unless this is done, the school farm will remain a model farm, but not a community demonstration farm with the purpose of raising the standard of living of the people. 

By 1953, farming on a large scale at the school came to a close with the departure of the farmer. As there were no educational programs to benefit from the maintenance of a large farm practice and pressure from the Board to engage diverse small projects was not producing results as labor was fragmented.  The reliable labor in the form of community students and other salaried workers from the community was not in the institution’s budget. The last rooster had crowed. The farm and the poultry operation was forced to close down and much of the farm machinery and implements were sold to raise revenue for the school.  In 1953 the farm manager, William Hayes, left the School for employment with the Kentucky Division of Forestry at Putney, across the mountain from the School. where his knowledge of the land set the course for another career.

CHICKEN N’ DUMPLINGS AGAIN

Always a central part of any home-coming, chicken n’ dumplings is a recipe with many variations. “Slickers” or “Puffers” no matter, they are all consumed with gusto.

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Pine Mountain student, Flora Patsy Hall Martin, class of 1945, can still produce a rib-sticking dumpling at the age of near 90.


See also: CHICKEN HOUSES

GO TO:

DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH  I – GUIDE

DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH – ABOUT