Often times the words “farm” and “smell” are negatively associated together. As a farm kid, I won’t disagree that there are certain smells on a farm that I wouldn’t put in a candle. But there are also many farm smells that I have taken for granted in my life. These smells trigger fond memories of my childhood; such as long summer days playing outside, a field of fresh cut hay, diesel exhaust from farm equipment, newly laid wood chips at county fairs, pastures with wildflowers, and especially the smells of fall. When I think of fall on the farm, I think of harvest, home cooked meals, fall festivals, and freshly turned soil. Each of these memories is associated with a distinct smell that only farm folks can recognize. (You know you’re a farm kid when you can drive past a farm and depict which livestock species it is based on its manure smell-and you take pride in it!)
Because these smells of fall are so dear to me, I will share with you my life as a farm kid in fall:
First and foremost, is the smell of harvest. The smell I associate with harvest is the smell of dried grains. It is a sweet and powdery smell which brings satisfaction to any farmer. This is the time of year that farmers can finally collect their crop that they’ve worked hard all year to prepare. I also think of diesel exhaust with harvest. Although this may not sound like an appealing smell, for someone who has grown up with it, it is one of those odd smells that simply reminds you of home on the farm. During harvest, many machines break out of the barn for the first time in the year. One of these is the combine. The combine is a large machine that cuts the stalk of whatever crop it is harvesting and brings it in to separate the grain from the plant. The grain is then collected on top of the combine which is transferred to the hopper when it is full, as shown above. One of my favorite memories of farm life is riding in the little makeshift seat of a combine with a loved one on a full day of harvest.
I think every farm family knows the smell of a good hearty meal. The smell that hits you when you walk into a candle store is similar to the smell of a farm house kitchen. A mix of fruits, spices, meats, homemade bread, and stews are staples in the kitchen during fall. Many families take roles in harvest. Some are responsible for delivering these delicious warm meals to the other family members while they are out harvesting. One of my favorite meals that screams farm life is burgoo. Burgoo is a very hearty stew with beef, potatoes, and many other vegetables. We even have a festival for it here in Illinois!
Small town rural America is littered with fall festivals during the months of September, October, and November. These festivals bring smells of pumpkins, apples, homemade pies, and candies. Small towns are so beautiful in fall and nothing beats the sight of a fall festival in an old barn. One of my personal favorite fall festivals is the Spoon River Valley Scenic Drive in Fulton County, Illinois. This takes place every year in the first two weeks of October. Roadside stands of pumpkins, gourds, and Indian corn pop up everywhere. Crafts and antiques are put up for sale and these small towns welcome visitors.
There is no way to put in words the smell of soil. A healthy soil has a very distinct smell due to the microorganisms that help bring nutrients to the crop and maintain a good soil structure. All of these are components farmers have to take in consideration when choosing farm ground. Good fertile farm ground is a prized possession in rural towns. Small towns are known for their “nosiness” in everyone’s business. But one subject that is always discussed at the local donut shop is the different types of soil other farmers own in their community. A farmer can spend hours discussing the way their soil responds to tillage, flooding, and erosion. In fall, many farmers till the ground for preparation of next year’s crop after harvest. The smell of a field of dark, rich, healthy soil is a gift that farm kids learn to appreciate early on.
I hope you enjoyed experiencing my farm life through the smells of fall and get a chance to appreciate some of these rural ways of living. I know I couldn’t picture my life any other way.
Western Illinois University Student