Pleasant Valley Wednesday – or Malabar in Winter

In the middle of last week I was on the road to a conference in Wooster, OH. This is not a long road trip for me, but starting with a quarter tank of gas I ended up needing more before getting there.  As I pulled off the freeway the first sign I see points off to the right and says Malabar Farm 9.  Interesting; I’d always pictured Malabar as much further east.  After having been harangued by Jim Bouldin and Brian Miller earlier this month for never having been to Malabar Farm I made a mental note and figured I’d need to make the trip even sooner than expected.

Our Wednesday work ended right after lunch and the evening activities weren’t coming up for several hours – so I took a look at my trusty Ohio map (those big sheets of paper that fold awkwardly and are totally confusing to anyone under 40) to see whether a good road cut off toward Malabar. One did.  Off I went.  It had started to snow and the countryside was taking on a fine winter glow.  This particular piece of Ohio is not flat like the Lake Bed region south and west of Toledo.  The roads are not particularly straight either.  Brian would be right at home here (though to be fair, the hills in his patch of earth are a bit more “hilly”).  It was a fun drive.

Malabar historic monument plaque

Sign across from the Visitor Center parking lot.

 

I drove into Pleasant Valley and found the farm, now a State Park, without any trouble. Middle of the week, in January, mild snow storm in progress, the place was pretty quiet.  The staff was assembled in the Visitors Center, having a meeting in the library so it was closed to the only visitor they had.  Bummer.  Given Jim’s comments on the library I was particularly interested in seeing it.  I did have a couple hours available so I cooled my heels in the mini museum area outside the library.  Meeting adjourned and I got to have a look.  I was underwhelmed at first, maybe Jim’s description had raised my expectations too high.  But once I had begun to peruse, a member of the staff stopped in to see why I was so interested in the library.  We chatted for a minute and as I explained who I was, what I do for a living, and how I came to be interested in the library he tells me I need to meet Tom.  Tom is a volunteer and their de facto librarian.  Great guy.  We talked for a good long while – long enough I had to start watching the time so I could get back.  Poor Tom must have thought I was trying to get out of the conversation.

The Visitor Center gift shop was closed, but great guy that he is Tom got them to open it for me so I could get a copy of Pleasant Valley.  Picked up a copy of From My Experience while I was at it.

Anoter book shelf - 2

Another shelf in my library – with the new additions at the top

 

So Louis Bromfield was a very accomplished author (Pulitzer Prize winner), a socialite, and real promoter. He’d spent many childhood years on his Grandfather’s farm, and before the onset of WW II he brought his family home from France and bought a total of four farms in the valley which ultimately became Malabar Farm.  Not able to spend enough time to run such an operation, Louis hired Max Drake to be his farm manager.  Max is the real agrarian behind the farm.  Louis was the money man, the promoter, the lightning rod.  Max made it work.

Malabar farm Jan '16

Livestock just like one will find on a working farm.  Big House on the far side of barn lot.

 

From April to November they’ll host over 200,000 visitors at the park. The library is still being organized, there are several boxes on the floor under tables, donations coming in, and more of Louis’ own library still down at the Big House (Jim must have run out of time while he was helping before 🙂 ).  I need to make time to get back and give Tom a hand [they have a title by Sir Albert Howard that I don’t have…. ]

Before I forget – Pleasant Valley Sunday – known to the map reader generation as a song recorded by the Monkees; was written by Carole King and her then husband Gerry Goffin. As a hat tip to Jim Bouldin whose own blog frequently honors good music, here is a link to a Carole King version.  There is no connection between the two Pleasant Valleys, though if you read into the lyrics you might easily imagine Carole and Gerry were potentially hunting for the sort of valley which Malabar Farm still rests in today.

Another Pleasant Valley Sunday

Here in status symbol land

Mothers complain about how hard life is

And the kids just don’t understand

Creature comfort goals they only numb my soul

I need a change of scenery

My thoughts all seem to stray to places far away

I don’t ever want to see

Another Pleasant Valley Sunday

 

 

 

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10 comments

  1. That was quick, Clem. Sounds like the park is a going concern if they get that many visitors.

    So a quibble for the quibbler: Although Max was a knowledgeable farm manager why is he the “real” agrarian. An agrarian is one committed to the idea that the culture of farming and the small communities directly a part of that life represent the best of human culture. Additionally, it is someone who advocates for the same. As such, Bromfield is clearly the principle agrarian in the picture. Now, sometimes agrarian is simply meant as a substitute for a toiler of the land. In that case then Max is your man.

    Glad to see the new shot of books. I’ll need to respond in kind.

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    1. That’s a pretty good quibble you have there. Am I to wonder whether someone is being influenced by the blogging company he keeps? Cool. 🙂

      Coming from someone known as the South Roane Agrarian I might want to immediately yield the field… but where’s the fun in that? I will confess my earlier appreciation for the term ‘agrarian’ was more cuddled up with the notion of the tiller, the steward, the worker of the land. In that light then I was more sympathetic to Max’s contribution.

      I imagine there is quite a bit of history associated with the term agrarian and its various usage over time. On that score I will yield in your direction. But quibbling with the quibbler, I do have a dictionary definition I wish to present as evidence to the court:

      Agrarian: noun; 1.a person who advocates a redistribution of landed property, especially as part of a social movement.

      This goes a bit sideways for either of our current uses – and IMHO more closely describes Mr. Smaje. Perhaps he will check in with a comment.

      I will close by offering a bit more evidence in support of Max’s potential claim to the title of lead agrarian behind the Malabar Farm history. During the conversation I had with Tom and another member of the MF Park staff (I want to say Cory, hope I’m not messing up his name too badly 😦 ), it sounded as though the motivation for Louis in purchasing the several farms was to return to his roots and raise his family in a manner both familiar and safe. [A land ethic of the sort Aldo Leopold describes in 1933 was very current, but likely more known to Max than to Louis (though I do need to follow up on such a supposition for real evidence).] Louis was extensively gone from the farm on business. I was given the impression that upon one return to the farm he was surprised by all of what Max was up to. Max taught Louis about contour farming and all the conservation value. Upon his conversion then Louis picked up the torch and put his promoters skills to good use spreading the word. So in this narrative then, Louis Bromfield arguably makes no big deal of conservation or improved agricultural practice without first seeing it put to use on his property. Yes, as acolyte, he spreads the word and contributes mightily to the overall success of the mission… but I still like Max for starting the ball rolling.

      There is another text which I did not have the opportunity to purchase during my visit – a book written by one of the Bromfield daughters. Its currently out of print. They expect it will be reprinted, or I can dig up a copy the old fashioned way… either way it sounds as though the daughter’s book should provide plenty of evidence for how matters unfolded.

      The park does hire a couple interns every season. Not that this matters to our present quibbling back and forth, but it does add to my appreciation of what they’re up to. Oh, and before I forget – there was a group that published a newsletter on conservation matters for many years. Bromfield was a leader in the group. Other notables? Aldo Leopold and Rachel Carson. Many of the texts in the library at the visitor’s center had been the property of a local MD who was also active in the conservation group – and he donated them (to the park, the family, the conservation group??). There is quite a bit more in the whole story that I hope to find some time to dig into. More on Mr Drake is of interest as well.

      Maybe Jim has some insights to share from his experience visiting the farm.

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  2. Note to self: never quibble with the quibbler. On the subject of Bromfield, you might like “The New Agrarian Mind” by Allan Carlson. He devotes a chapter to the study of Bromfield’s agrarian period. Bromfield later repudiated agrarianism and embraced scientific agri-business.
    BTW not sure if you do facebook. But I answered your implied biblio challenge at: https://www.facebook.com/thesouthroaneagrarian/

    Cheers to the Old Quibbler

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah now, jeeez and shucks. Here I stand, head stooped, hands in my pockets, and tracing an arc on the ground with one foot.

      I got a little excited there. Sorry. Not promising that I’ll never do it again, but well… just that. Imagine what might happen if I get to see Mr Berry at some point*.

      Thanks for the Allan Carlson lead.

      Took a look at your latest bookshelf offering on facebook. Fair, and I know you can do far more so in the future any book photos will likely come with some sort of advance apology or nod in your general direction.

      * If I do have the opportunity to pay Wendell a visit you can bet I’ll take an armful of books for him to sign. And THAT would warrant another photo. Just sayin’.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. You made it!

    I’ve got some notes from my visits somewhere, will look for them.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Yes, would like to see what you have. Am planning to go back sometime.

    In San Fransico at the moment. Saw a place on Fisherman’s Warf called Boudins. Missing the ‘l’. But it made me think of you.

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  5. Well, sorry about the delay on this Clem, but better late than never as they say, “they” of course being terrible procrastinators for the most part.

    Just a verbatim paste of what notes I wrote a few years ago, just notes to myself really. Unfortunately, not really hitting on the issue of how he came to his ag viewpoints per your discussion with Brian. But somewhat interesting still…interesting man.

    “Notes on discussion at Malabar with Tom Bachelder, Park Historian.

    Bromfield’s first four books were where he really developed his success. Well received, pulitzer prize for third book. “The Man Who Had Everything” is roughly biographical (about a successful play writer who questions meaning of life and goes back to rural life in France). Written in 1935.

    First year after he died lawyers in NY kept farm running. Bromfield owed ~ 1/4 million $$, so the estate lawyers decided to sell the farm. Was within 2 hours of selling when friends borrowed money, maybe $140,000, much from the Noble foundation of Oklahoma, to buy it. Lloyd Noble was oil magnate, friend, his foundation still exists. Would have been turned into real estate development. In 1972, Noble Foundation cancelled $250,000 debt in return for the deed to land, which they then turned around and sold to State for $1, under the condition that it be managed in the way that Bromfield envisioned or it reverts to Noble.

    Louis Bromfield Malabar Farm Foundation was original name of foundation. The present Malabar Foundation is different; started in 1993, current president is son of Bromfield’s farm manager Bob Hugee (son is also Bob). Max Drake was original manager, until 1943, five years. Drake made big changes while Bromfield was gone to Hollywood, including contour plowing, land layout etc. Bromfield got mad at first but accepted changes quickly. Herschel Hecker (county etension agent?) and Ed Faulkner were also influential early on in his farm thinking.

    George Hawkins, business manager, died in 1948, urged the writing of later fiction books for money. Lloyd Chapman lived in the house for a while, director of LBMFF.

    Note: original house of grandfather in Mansfield is still there. He spent a lot of time there. His father was a banker and he would buy and try to restore farms in the county. Mostly failed though. He accompanied his father sometimes. May well be the origin of his restoration goals.

    David Anderson wrote biography focused on his life and the books he wrote at the time, 1964. Brown also wrote one in 1957, a critique of Bromfield’s books, based on interviews.

    1951: had several fundraisers for Robert Taft for the Repbulican nomination for president. Rumor is that he would have been Sec. of Agriculture if Taft had been elected. In the 30s/40s he was democratic in orientation, supportive of New Deal, corresponded with Eleanor Roosevelt, etc. But by late 1940s he’d shifted to Republican views. Became crotchety in old age. Favorite boxer dog died in 1948, wife in 1952, two daughters married and left in 1950/51. By 1952 he was left alone with his schizophrenic oldest daughter. Bone cancer diagnosed in 1955? Died March 1956, age 59.

    Doris Duke contacted him about dutch elm disease killing trees on her properties. He responded and relationship developed from there, possibly romantic in year before he died. She stepped in after his death and bought the woods on the hill above the barn, which was designated to be logged to pay bills. Bromfield died thinking they would be so. Duke was daughter of the tobacco magnate who founded Duke University.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for additional information Jim. Much of this fits precisely with things I heard during my visit or with things I’ve read since. But there is also much here I hadn’t heard yet. The fundraising for Taft, and the Doris Duke relationship are news to me. Duke was quite the personality as well, so I can imagine they had quite a bit to talk about.

      I have the sense Louis’ father was politically very active – but not too successful. Not sure to what extent that may have colored his world view.

      Your notes on Max Drake reinforce what I’d heard, and thanks for the leads on Hershel Hecker and Ed Faulkner. Where ideas come from and how they get around has always been a fascination. Family relationships seem interesting as well. I went to college in Illinois with a Faulkner (Tom) who could plausibly be related to Ed. There are quite a few Chapmans in Ohio as well, most(?) can claim some kinship to Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman). Indeed there is a Chapman working in our soybean research group (and she is kin).

      If you imagine coming back for another tour of the farm, drop me a note and I’ll see if I can go at the same time. The staff might think we’re ganging up on them, but I have the sense they’d be happy to have us. I am quite interested in the history of the group of ecologically minded folk that included Aldo Leopold and Rachel Carson. Not sure if Malabar Farm has a complete collection of their journal, but know they have many issues. Am also thinking the Farm collection includes correspondences between Louis and some of these others. I think it would be interesting to see what sorts of thoughts passed between them… if for no other reason that it might flesh out a side to their personalities not seen in their polished prose.

      Like

  6. Would definitely enjoy a trip there with you Clem if it could possibly ever work out. Such a great place. I have no idea what might be buried in any archives they might have there but it could be fascinating for sure. On the other hand I’m happy just going there to ride and eat tomatoes and corn on a hot summer day…

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