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John Bowen: So many decades on the land

by Jill Aho, Herald and News 4/30/09
As he puts away each implement he used to plant his barley field this year, he thinks to himself, "I guess this will be the last time I do this."

Bowen, 81, has been farming his father’s homestead for the last 58 years, and he thinks this year may be the last.

   “It gets harder to take care of the equipment,” he says, sitting on the couch in his living room with his wife, Doris, by his side. “I’m getting to the point where it takes too long to do anything. I’m like the housewife whose work is never done; I never get caught up.”
   Still-youthful face
   Bowen’s youthful face and steady eyes don’t reveal his years, but his workingman’s hands are clues to the decades, which he began by watching his father, a World War I veteran, build the home where he grew up. Bowen’s father obtained the 75 acres in 1938, Bowen says.
   “There wasn’t anything there,” he recalls. “My dad had qualifications as a carpenter. He built our house that year and a small barn. He built two other houses for two other homesteaders.”
   Bowen purchased the homestead after returning from the Navy at the end of World War II. He tore down the old house, vowing it would never become dilapidated like so many others in this farming territory outside Tulelake.
   “A lot of them around here, they rent them out and they get trashed and they’re a horrible sight,” Bowen says, adding he got quite a bit of good lumber from the buildings he removed from the homestead.
Farming fewer acres
   John and Doris live down the road from the two plots of land he owns and works. As the years pass, Bowen finds himself farming fewer acres, having rented 73 acres out for alfalfa cultivation the last six years. At one time, Bowen was farming 680 acres, the rest of the land leased, often from widows, Doris says.
   “A lot of people, as they get older, they hang on to their land and rent or lease it,” Doris says. That is Bowen’s plan. He already works closely with a younger farmer, Jim Lyman, and shares some equipment with him.
   “He does a lot of things for me,” Bowen says. “He lets me use his hired men.”
   “It’s a pretty cooperative culture around here,” Doris adds. “People do help each other.”
   Big list of chores
   Doris says she’s got a list that’s 20 miles long of work that needs to be done at the couple’s home, so there’s no worry that Bowen won’t know what to do with himself when he finishes harvesting this year’s crop.
   “It was hard for him to start cutting back,” she says. “It’s just a fact of life, when you reach your late 70s, you get tired. And his equipment is tired too.”
   As he considers the future of his profession, Bowen says the nation’s food supply is the most critical element to the future of continued U.S. independence, and he worries that water struggles could compromise that future.
   “We need to be growing our own crops here, not importing them all the time,” he says. “You cut the farmers off and this nation isn’t going to last. The farmers are the heart of the nation.”

Doris and John Bowen enjoy some time together at home, on the couch below their favorite picture.

H&N photos by Andrew Mariman
John Bowen, 81, is planning to farm at least one more year on the land his father homesteaded near Tulelake.
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