Farm Collector

First Things

Chop your own wood and it will warm you

American proverb

The converse of that proverb (Chop your own ice
and it will cool you twice) is also true but a good deal less
charming. In an article beginning on page 10 of this issue of
Farm Collector, columnist Sam Moore revisits the ice
harvesting business that thrived in the northeast part of this
country for more than 50 years. If you were the ice tycoon, it
looks like ice harvesting was a pretty nice little sideline. But
for the guys working on the ice, it looks like one long, cold day
at the office in an era before waterproof, insulated boots had been

Historically, the roots of farm-based innovations are often
found in economic necessity. Farmers who can’t afford new
technology have long been resourceful in developing ways to enhance
old technology. In the mid-1800s, though, ice harvesting was not so
much an alternative as it was a solution. It wasn’t that farmers
couldn’t afford refrigeration: Refrigeration didn’t exist

By looking at frozen rivers and seeing not only a solution but
also a commodity, farmers and businessmen capitalized on a ready
opportunity. Ultimately they were consuming yet another of our
natural resources – ice harvesting is not so different from cutting
trees or fishing or mining coal – but presumably with fewer
long-term environmental impacts. In any case, the crop was free for
the taking, and farmhands under-utilized in winter months were
undoubtedly glad for the work.

As a sort of windfall crop, ice fit neatly into common farm
practices of the day. The way in which ice fields were marked for
plowing is reminiscent of check planting techniques of the era.
Horses were put to work pulling markers and plows. Barn-like
structures were built to store the crop. In the end, the ice
harvest was just another way in which early farmers demonstrated

The merits of self-sufficiency and traditional methods ring
clear elsewhere in this issue. Oscar Will writes of a young man
who, at a tractor show, demonstrates the use of an ancient planer
to convert rough-cut boards into finished lumber. It’s not just for
show: the lumber will be used as flooring in the home he’s
building. But that’s another story, and one I hope you’ll enjoy.
Happy reading!

Leslie McManus, Editor

  • Published on Mar 1, 2007
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