Haymakers: A Chronicle Of Five Farm Families

Steven R. Hoffbeck

Published by Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2000
ISBN 10: 0873513940 / ISBN 13: 9780873513944
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Synopsis: Making hay has always been hard work, just about the hardest work on a farm. In The Haymakers, Steven R. Hoffbeck chronicles the story of five different farm families in five different eras over a span of 150 years. A history of farming in microcosm, Hoffbeck relates how the work of cultivating hay has changed over the last century and a half—a story not just about grass, alfalfa, and clover, but also about sweat and fears, toil and loss.

One of the unique aspects of the book is that the fifth family that Hoffbeck chronicles is his own. Born into a farming family in southwestern Minnesota, Hoffbeck grew up working alongside his father and brothers and remembers, with rich detail, the sweat and toil of laboring on the farm. Throughout the book there is an undercurrent of danger and loss—as farmers struggled to tend their land under difficult circumstances, and as that work became more mechanized and conse-quently more dangerous. In the most heartfelt sections of the book, Hoffbeck writes of losing both his father and his oldest brother in separate farming accidents. As he writes, "wound around my memo-ries of summers haying with my dad and my brothers are deeper threads of mourning. Danger, both natural and mechanical, is woven into the fabric of farmwork." He also writes about his own feelings of guilt about leaving the family farm for a career as a teacher and historian.

Hoffbeck also seeks to document and preserve the commonplace methods of haymaking, information about haying that might otherwise be lost to posterity. He describes the tools and the methods of haymaking as well as the relentless demands of the farm. Using diaries, agricultural guidebooks and personal interviews, the folkways of cutting, raking, and harvesting hay have been recorded in these chapters. Both a chronicle of the daily rhythms of farm work and a moving elegy for a vanishing way of life, the book is not so much about agricultural history as it is about family history, personal history—how farm families survive, even persevere.

From the Publisher: "My heart ached when I finished this book. Let’s say it’s about more than haying, more than farm equipment, more than the survival of five farm families. It is all of these, but what makes The Haymakers extraordinary is Hoffbeck’s compassion for the people he writes about combined with his storyteller’s ability to make the stuff of history come alive on the page." — Jim Heynen, author of The One-Room Schoolhouse

"Hoffbeck’s hay, like Whitman’s grass, surprises the reader by turning out to be a large metaphor for our history and its effect on American interior life. While hay itself remains a wonder—a miracle even—the machinery we use to harvest and profit from it grows into a monster that harvests us, both economically and literally. From the elegant introductory essay on the nature and lore of hay to the sad family history of the afterword, Hoffbeck has made a sound and intelligent read for his audience—which should include all of us." — Bill Holm, author of The Heart Can Be Filled Up Anywhere on Earth and The Music of Failure

"Steven Hoffbeck’s The Haymakers is a love story and a requiem. Imaginatively weaving material gleaned from interviews, diaries, and the agricultural press, he lovingly recreates the hard work and the tragedies of Minnesota farm families from the time of the Civil War to the present. During those years the technology of haying has changed dramatically. Hoffbeck brings the reader into the hayfields and haylofts to experience these changes. He succeeds in causing the reader ‘to feel the burning July sun and the noonday heat that made haying one of the hardest tasks of agriculture.’ More than that, the author tells the stories of the lives of five farmers, mostly immigrants or the sons of immigrants, their families, and the rural communities to which they belonged." — Allen R. Yale, Jr., author of While the Sun Shines: Making Hay in Vermont, 1789–1990

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Title: Haymakers: A Chronicle Of Five Farm Families
Publisher: Minnesota Historical Society Press
Publication Date: 2000
Binding: Hardcover
Book Condition: Used: Good

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