In the span of a lifetime: by hand, mechanization, then digitalization

dad bindering

What struck me when Markus was reading his father’s eulogy was the tremendous change that Hans Stamm experienced in his lifetime. Hans wrote his own eulogy. Born in 1928 as a peasant farmer’s son, he remembered when wheat was harvested with a scythe, picked up and bundled – all by hand. He told of the progression to a mower, then the binder, and now the most modern of threshing machines. Wheat was mowed with a scythe thousands of years ago already. There had been some change, some mechanization but it was slow up until his lifetime. In the count of time of man, some millions of years, they tell us, what is the span of a man’s life? Yet in the span of Hans’ life, our world changed drastically. It’s hard to grasp really.

Hans’ generation saw immense progress in mechanization, and then in their senior years the coming of the digital age.Rural farm folks of his generation come from strong traditional roots put down by generations of doing things the same way. My father-in-law used to say to my husband: “Things were never done like that before!” That meant: you don’t do it that way, it was never done like that. Hearing Markus read Hans’ words, I understood a little better what it is/was like for that generation to see their children and grandchildren make changes on the farm and in their lives that seemed inconceivable a short time ago. It was a break with the norm, with expectations. That always is cause for conflict. (Both Hans and my father-in-law were very forward thinking men though, and generally supported their sons in change.)

I think of the small farmers we worked with in Zambia, and how we were sometimes frustrated in the resistance to change we saw there. Zambian farmers are even more deeply steeped in tradition than the older Swiss farmer with far less exposure to other ideas. No one changes easily. Why should we expect it of them?

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6 Responses to In the span of a lifetime: by hand, mechanization, then digitalization

  1. Thank you for sharing this. I’m thinking the same when I consider the lives of my parents. My father was born in 1915. At that time, the village communitiy was more or less autonomous. The women made clothes themselves by knitting or sewing, fruit and vegetables came from their gardens or were bought from a farmer, shoes were made by the shoemaker, and hardly anything was thrown away. People had to work hard but were able to make a living by the work of their hands. This is not possible anymore; life has become far too expensive. Is this really progress? I doubt it.

    • marerobster says:

      We were just discussing this yesterday with a group of older farmers. Are we happier? Is the earth happier? My mother-in-law once said though, that for women it was really hard. Washing clothes and diapers by hand, so many children and then hired help and grandparents in the house. She doesn’t want to go back to those times, she said. A washing machine is wonderful progress for us women, and the men would say a combine is too. But we lost something with that too, didn’t we.

  2. adrianh95 says:

    Interesting Marianne! My own Dad was of the same generation that saw so much change and development. I think there must be a balance somewhere. We took our cow’s to the limit……they became “formula one” cows, so highly tuned and bred, yet the slightest thing they would break down and you’d end up getting rid of them 😩 I hated that.

    • marerobster says:

      There’s a real move especially here in Switzerland to go back to more healthy lifestyles, for the land and animals too. I visited a farm in the Tuscany where they are breeding the Chianina cow, which goes back to the Etruscans in the 7th century, a very hardy cow. But probably most of the world’s produce will still come from the mega farms, at least for now.

  3. Maya Wenger says:

    I think what has changed for the better is that the common worker can now gain a life of his own. Back then the farm hand had little or no opportunity of marrying and supporting his own family. He lived on the farm and worked for room and board. He was regarded as a servant of the landowner, even if he was the brother or sister. This kind of attitude and behavior towards a laborer has changed. It is a healthy change.

  4. marerobster says:

    I think we often tend to romanticize the past. We see what we miss in our time, and forget how hard it was.

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