How to Eat Like a Farmer


Back in the day, farmers were up before dawn, working. They came in for breakfast, which meant a plate loaded with eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuits, gravy, jams, and who knows what else. By noon they were ready for a table groaning with food, or loaded baskets carried out to the field by the farm mother. Then there was supper. And you bet there was pie. All of these calories were sustained by the labor.

One of the frequent ongoing comments I get on my website is about weight (mine). I write about old-fashioned recipes, and an old-fashioned way of cooking. I’m fascinated, always, with old-time ways, and that includes the food. I can’t stand diet food, have never been able to abide it. If it’s not real ice cream, I don’t want it. Give me lard and butter, or shoot me. And if I can’t have pie, why keep living? (Life is short; eat more pie.)

Let me preface this entire thing with: I am not a doctor. I’m not a nutritionist. I’m not a wellness expert or a therapist. I’m just some woman living on a farm. What you find here are my thoughts, not medical advice.

When I lived in the ‘burbs, I exercised and dieted quite frequently. In fact, I’ve exercised and dieted since I was a teen. I was raised in a weight-conscious home. My parents were never overweight, and worked to stay that way. My mother was particularly conscious of weight and health. She did grow up in the country, so her behavior was sometimes contrary. The only time salt was put on the table was for the Sunday roast. Sugar was not put in our cold tea. Yet she fried up bacon on Saturdays and dipped biscuits in the grease in the iron skillet (both sides, flipping them) before she baked them. (Man, that was good.) We were required to eat everything put on our plates, and were frequently admonished about gaining weight. If I got “fat” I would be disowned. (I don’t think my parents actually meant that, but in the 1970s, you were allowed to state such un-politically correct things to your children and nobody cared.) My mother owned an exercise salon in California when I was in my teens, and I worked there in the summers. She cared about her figure until the day she died and had exercise equipment in her home. My father was eternally affected by the obesity of his grandmother, who eventually became so heavy she could barely move around. (She had too much hired help! She didn’t have to work!)

Having grown up in such a weight-conscious home, I remained weight-conscious as an adult, and am weight-conscious today–more than I wish I was. After I had each child, I always lost weight before I got pregnant with the next, and after the third (when I was finished), I got down to the weight I had been the day I married at 18. (115) That’s not a weight I can sustain as an adult, so that didn’t last long, but I just think I was proving to myself I could do it. I accomplished this with what I called the “wine-jalapeno diet” and I would describe this, but perchance ONE insane person might be reading this and decide to try it. And it’s a ridiculous diet that should not be pursued by anyone, so I refuse to provide the directions. It worked. But it was stupid.

Fast-forward to today. I love bread, cheese, bacon, pie, cookies, ice cream, butter, and lard. I do not have, and never have had, diet products in my kitchen. If I’m going to eat, I’m going to eat the real thing. I’m a believer in real food versus anything processed or scraped of its calories into a diet product. There are certain products that rarely make an appearance in my house–“junk food” such as store-bought cookies, chips, soda pop, and so on. I make food from scratch, using real ingredients (fat and all), and I mostly drink water. Many people have commented over the years about my weight and the kind of food of which I write. I work it off.

As I stated above, I’m not a doctor, I’m just a woman on a farm. There are medical conditions, metabolism issues, hereditary tendencies, and more, that play into weight. I can’t address any of that, so please understand I’m speaking to the average person without those issues.

Our forebears consumed food in proportion to what they were expending. A given when it comes to weight (for the normal average person) is that to maintain the same weight, you consume calories coming in equal to calories going out. If you consume more calories than are going out, you gain weight. Consume less, you lose weight. For the average person, it’s that simple.

What happened is that, for most of us, what changed was the labor. We stopped working hard, physically, when our lives became more cosmopolitan as we left the farm. A replacement for that is purposeful exercise–walking, running, biking, working out in gyms, etc.

I’ve always walked or run. I ran track in middle school and high school. I continued walking or running through my adult life. At Stringtown Rising, I used to run up and down the steep driveway. When I lived at the Slanted Little House, I used to walk four miles a day. I did less purposeful exercise at Stringtown Rising because I was working so hard. Sassafras Farm is a much easier farm to work, and I started gaining weight here. I started walking the ridge road behind my farm, at first just a mile or two, and eventually five miles a day. Sometimes I run parts of it. I do this because I can either stop eating pie or I can expend more calories. This is what I call eating like a farmer. Eat what you’re going to work off; work off what you eat.

I hate scales, by the way. I haven’t owned a scale in nearly 10 years. When I am at a doctor’s office, I look away while I’m being weighed. I don’t really trust myself around scales. I’m afraid of becoming obsessed with weighing myself every day! So no scales for me. Though recently I became randomly intrigued, wondering what I weighed. I asked a few friends what they thought I weighed. Like some exercise in exorcism, when I decided to write this post, I decided I would post whatever my weight was. WHATEVER it was. Publicly. Like, to release its power or something. The guesses ranged from 135 to 160. My own guess was 150. Jerry, who must think I’m weighing down his four-wheeler, guessed the top number at 160. A friend, who has actually picked me up, guessed the lowest number at 135.

Since I don’t have a scale, I went to K-mart and pulled a scale off the shelf.

I know that I’ve lost weight in the last six months, due to more purposeful exercise, just from these photos (taken by Jerry Waters).

Last fall:

This spring:
The scale at K-mart read 132. (I didn’t buy it. I just used it in the aisle then put it back.) Of course, I have no idea if that scale was calibrated, accurate, or whatever, but it certainly at least suggests a range much less than I expected, so I was surprised. And told my friend that next time I wanted to know how much I weighed, I’d just ask him.

I have all the nutso things going on in my head that many of us have when it comes to weight. My childhood influences, concern about my appearance, how I look in clothes, what people think about me, craziness, not to mention hunger and a desire for pie. The point of all of this is that, when I realized my workload was too easy here, I added purposeful exercise–rather than giving up food. And I strive to eat what I expend in energy.

Like a farmer.

Real food, real work. Whether you live on a farm or not.

Now, if you want to make me feel less neurotic, you can tell me if you have scale or not, and if your parents said they’d disown you if you got “fat” or anything else that comes to mind!

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Posted by Suzanne McMinn on June 27, 2013  

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  1. 6-27

    I am a doctor (internal medicine/pediatrics), and I completely agree with everything you said. With all the crazy diets out there, I always try to remind my patients (and myself!) that the most important thing to do if you want to lose weight is to take in less calories than you use. As someone who also grew up in a house with an unhealthy focus on weight, I very much appreciate your healthy attitude to eating good quality food and then staying active.

  2. 6-27

    When i was a boy and in my early teens i was about as wide as i was tall.Then i started hauling hay in the summer and fall for a farmer down the road.All of the weight went away and i ate like a horse.I have always worked hard outside and gain a little weight in the winter and lose it in the summer.

  3. 6-27

    They never said they’d disown me, but when I was 5 years old my mom told me she wasn’t going to buy me any more clothes if I got any fatter. That leaves a mark… and unfortunately her approach backfired. 30 years later and way more pounds than I care to mention, I’m slowly (VERY SLOWLY) making a bit of progress. I mean progress in the right direction. But I’m doing it the way you described… real food, and calories-in-vs-calories-out.

  4. 6-27

    Suzanne, I totally agree with you. Neither of my parents really struggled with weight. My father was always in great shape but he watched his intake. My mother ate what she liked but never large portions. There’s 5 of us kids and now we’re in our 50’s and none of us are overweight. But we all struggle a little more to keep it in check.
    I gave up the scale years ago, afraid of it becoming an obsession. I go by how my clothes feel. Every season when I pull out the seasonal stuff, I hope they still fit like last year. What I’m finding, now I’m in menopause, that my pants fit the same but my fitted tops are too snug. I’m getting that fuller figure and so are my 2 sisters. Physical health issues have ended my aerobic exercise even though I walk 2 miles everyday. My sister runs a weight loss clinic for a family doctor and she has had great success telling her clients, “Eat like a king for breakfast, a prince for lunch and a pauper for supper”. No food after 6 p.m.
    I watch my 2 daughters struggle with their weight as they take after their dad, who is about 60 lbs. overweight. So much of weight issues is genetic. Our son , taking after my side, does not struggle so much.

  5. 6-27

    My sis and I were always “skinny Minnies” growing up, in fact I was put on a diet to GAIN weight when I was a young child because I “didn’t like anything”.
    However, my dear Grammy always said she was “five feet tall and five feet around” and didn’t have any lap to hold a grandchild. But she was the sweetest, kindest, most sensible woman and best old-fashioned cook I have ever known. And she didn’t obsess about her weight, in fact her whole family of 6 siblings were all shaped that way. (And the older I get the more I look like her!).
    And, no, I don’t have a scale either.

  6. 6-27

    I started purposeful exercise a couple years ago; took almost 6 months off due to life issues, got back to it in February. Since then I have really increased where I am now doing over an hour’s worth every day, cardio and strength training. Why? Scale obsession and my jeans got tight. Too many trips to the US this past year and I’ve gained 10 pounds that I can feel. At 5’4″, 155 pounds is too much for me. Much happier at 142 or so and working to get back down there. I eat and believe in eating like you described. And in spite of the weight hanging on just now, I know at age 53 I’m probably in the best shape of my life. I also see the difference in health and ability of my mom and dad. Neither overweight, but Dad has always exercised (tennis, gardening) and mom never has. At 86, he still plays tennis. With a pacemaker. At 80, mom can barely go shopping or walk to the mailbox. I’m gonna be like dad.

  7. 6-27

    We were very poor when I was growing up. Fruits and vegetables were what was cheap back then, so we ate unintentionally healthy. Unfortunately, it made me feel deprived of all the “good” things (junk food)that everyone else got to eat. So, as an adult, I’ve struggled with weight because now I can have all the “good” food I want. It’s sad to know the truth but struggle with living it.

  8. 6-27

    I don’t own a scale and I judge by how I feel and how my clothes fit. Like you – I believe in whole foods (cooked from scratch)so our family eats little processed foods. I actually teach nutrition to limited resource folks in my community – although I don’t always agree with the Dietary Guidelines. I believe that desserts made from scratch are the best but because they take more time and thought to prepare, we don’t eat them very often.

    Farm work is tough and since the kids have the nerve to grow-up move away to college (LOL), I have to pick-up more of the slack.

    My sisters and even community members have commented that I’ve lost too much weight. I really haven’t lost weight just become stronger and more physically fit. Gathering and stacking firewood is a great work-out! Also, it seems that I must walk 2-3 miles every day just feeding and watering the animals.

    The doctor’s office always asks what type of exercise I do. I always reply “farm work”. It may not be housed in a gym but it is even more physically demanding. To me, physical labor gives me the satisfaction of knowing I’ve accomplished something!

  9. 6-27

    love this topic.
    Wgt issues all of my life. But maybe ten years ago it finally clicked ‘eat to live, not live to eat’. I do eat lower fat (but not diet foods). I shudder at lard, etc. But, my foods are prepared from scratch for the most part and wise choices for sweets. Fruit is pure heaven. Not a pie person. Not my thing. A baked apple on the other hand. ;)
    A controlled diabetic. I control it with food and exercise. I live in the middle of a city. So my walking is pounding pavements, in malls, or dog walking in parks. It works!

  10. 6-27

    LOL! I don’t own a scale and while my mother never said she would disown me, it was very apparent how she felt about being ‘fat’. Even now, she makes comments about my and everybody else’s size. You’re right – one works hard on a farm and then one fuels one’s body with good food so that there is energy for the next day.

    Great post :)


  11. 6-27

    This topic is positively toxic to me. I’m with buglady77. Huge arguments and recriminations about my weight as a child. Constant haranguing, name calling and derision. Worst was when we went to buy a school uniform from approved supplier. . . Even reading/writing about this brings me to tears. So no, there is no scale in my house. I’m fat, I know it, and I’m in a constant struggle against it. (I was in my thirties before I found a pic of my grandparents showing they were the epitome of German dumplings.)

    With respect to foods, I’m of the opinion that many of those mass-produced farm products, filled with drugs and growth hormones, play a part in the increasing obesity numbers. Not just junk food, but so-called “real” foods which are extensively over processed and over preserved..

  12. 6-27

    Yes, I have a scale in my house. Do I use it, very rarely. I was the skinny kid who didn’t weigh a 100 lbs when I started high school. 30 seemed to be the magic number where the weight changed. By that time I had had 2 kids. Yes, I eat junk food but am not a fan of a lot of processed foods thanks in part to this site.

    IMO, technology has, on a whole, changed the way the majority of society lives. We have labor saving devices that our parents and grandparents only dreamed about.

  13. 6-27

    I’ve had problems with my weght since the age of nine…so for over 50 years I have had issues. Same as oneoldgoat…my mom comments ALL the time about peoples weight.My brother and I dread visits with her because of the constant questions about out weight.Even when we lose weight she is still critical of our methods…according to her weight watchers is unhealthy. All of my children have at one time had weight problems…when my oldest daughter cut out gluten and processed food she dropped big pounds and feels great…my youngest daughter runs and lost a lot of weight…my youngest son gained weight when he stopped playing rugby. BTW my mother is over weight…:-)

  14. 6-27

    My mom struggled with weight and I can still hear her saying she is waiting for the day they invent a pill. Ironically, her weight didn’t kill her. Habitual swallowing Tylenol for pain.
    I don’t have a scale and my two young adult sons don’t realize majority of Americans weigh their selves every morning. They do know most people have light switches and thermostats. I’m thankful for electric and water and in winter when the electric goes out I’m toasty feeding my pot belly stove as usual.
    Scales made someone rich. I wish I could invent a silly something to get the masses to believe they must have one because everyone else does.
    There is nothing I love more than being sick enough that makes me go to doctor and then doing their obstacle course so the wait will feel only like an hour instead of two.
    Last time I renewed license I just wrote 240 in weight box. I like room to grow and I did the same at local clinic and rare that I wasn’t asked to hop on scale. The doctor was short and fat and at some point I felt that I was telling him don’t eat fried foods.
    My underwear tells me when I need to stop indulging. :sheepjump: Skip the rest of what I could say for the sake of other readers. :moo:

  15. 6-27

    Adults obsessing about the weight issues in front of children have an impact on that child’s view of food. Sometimes they do not want to eat because they do not want to get fat like the adult(s) in their life.

    I have seen that in my own family.

  16. 6-27

    You are motivating me. The best place to put our chickens when we get them would be in our “bottom”. I have put off getting the chickens because I would have to go up and down the steep hill to take care of them…I have never had to go out and take care of any animal, ever. I raised 4 kids but never had to go out in the cold or rain, up and down a hill to feed and take care of them. Am I a little afraid of hard work, sorta kinda. (but I feel myself getting braver every time I read ya) I work hard but can take a day to recover if I am sore, don’t think the chickens would want to wait for me to feel better to be cared for. I have lived a cush life in the burbs (no longer tho) long enough to realize I am soft…Thanks for sharing, Suzanne

  17. 6-27

    PS I bought a scale 6 months ago and have yet to get on it. I am not afraid to, just am more of a my pants are tight need to lay off the goodies and get moving kinda girl. I was going to start a diet and they recommended I buy a scale and well it all kinda ended there. Maybe chickens in the bottom would help my winter weight issues besides giving me fresh eggs

  18. 6-27

    You look terrific. And you also did last year.

    I always thought I was fat (I won a chubby contest when I was two and that picture was always there), but really I was only fat for a few years after I quit smoking. Finally lost that weight. Now I am 66 and weigh what I weighed at 20 (130). I don’t think I will ever be able to stop worrying about it. I’d love to be 125. But I know it’s silly. I have quite a few chores, and it works. You work a lot harder than I do.

  19. 6-27

    I read the title “How to eat like a farmer” and mentally thought, “Step 1: work like a farmer.” Then I read what you had to say and had to laugh. Yep, that’s how it works.

  20. 6-27

    Great article! Since returning from Sassafras farm last week… can’t believe I was baking in my own kitchen just one week after baking in your studio… I have bought lard, etc, and made some amazingly yummy things to eat! Unfortunately, the same night, I under-cooked my chicken and got horrible food poisoning and have had absolutely ZERO appetite for anything yummy all week. I have mostly consumed just pedialite, water, and fruit blender smoothies. I can’t even look at the gorgeous pie wasting away in my refrigerator! =( It is so sad. On the upside, although I have been comfortable with my weight and who I am, I have lost 10 pounds and that is nice. ;-)

  21. 6-27

    My question is this: Are you positive that Morgan is your child?? She hates pie! :lol:

  22. 6-27

    For most of my childhood I was overweight. My childhood doctor referred to me as “husky” and “big boned”. Then I moved out on my own at the age of 18 and got nice and skinny. It wasn’t because I tried, it was because I couldn’t afford rent and food at the same time.

    After having kids, I put on more weight than ever. I dealt with depression, postpartum and seasonal affective disorder.

    I do own a scale, and have lost over 40 pounds, and still have a lot to go. The funny thing is that what it took was two things. Number one was to learn that my vitamin D levels were extremely low. Number two was to quit buying into the “diet food” teachings. I started eating what I call real food (much the same as you) and found I wasn’t hungry all the time. I believe that eating these foods gives my body what it was meant to have and it actually takes less to satisfy me.

    Of course goat wrestling (also known as hoof trimming) and hefting bales of hay go a long way as well.

  23. 6-27

    Suzanne, this is the most sensible diet advice I’ve seen posted in ages! I’m an urban farmer these days – my garden is now limited to an apartment balcony – but I still think like a farmer, and eat like a farmer. However, I’m surrounded by people who eat only “diet” or “sugarless” foods, and I’m bombarded with messages about the benefits of diet and sugarless foods. I won’t have them! I still eat the same – I just eat a little less these days. I don’t own a scale either. I work on the “Pants System” – when my pants start getting tight (and I’ve worn the same size since I was about 15 with the exception of 4 pregnancies), I cut back quantities and ease up on the desserts. As long as my pants are comfortable, I’m comfy too! Good on you for this post! We should all be blessed to hear more common sense these days!

  24. 6-27

    “…I can either stop eating pie or I can expend more calories. Eat what you’re going to work off; work off what you eat.”

    I am completely with you on this one. Farm chores and horseback riding are my exercise; and I exercise so that I can eat more of what I want to eat. (Or drink more of what I want to drink–I do enjoy a cold adult beverage.) I will never again be as thin as I was at, say, 20, but I stay in pretty good shape this way AND don’t have to starve myself. (I too have done things as crazy as the “wine and jalapeno” diet in my day–not going back there.)

  25. 6-27

    You look terrific. You were beautiful before and beautiful now! Pie is my favorite!!! I can only have pie with splinda now.;(

  26. 6-27

    I agree. Do what makes you happy. It will balance out in the end.

  27. 6-27

    I had an unhealthy obsession with weight as a teen. (I think that’s why I’m 1/2 gray-haired at age 45.)I’ve not owned a scale as an adult, nor have I been as concerned with how much I eat since I had my first child at age 29. I know if I wanna slim down I need to stop drinking beer and frankly I’d rather do without bread than deprive myself. BTW Thank you for sticking to your guns when others bad mouth you for being human. Those haters need to work on their humanity not your patience.

  28. 6-27

    I absolutely loved your latest post. I am so sick of low-fat-sugar-free tripe. These things are proving to be extremely unhealthy for living beings. You looked marvelous in the Fall–pretty sexy–and equally as marvelous in the Springtime. You are keeping the right balance, and that is key–balance.

  29. 6-27

    Isn’t it crazy the messages we give children, and then in time you look back and say….. what the heck.

    I was told all the time I was growing up that I was fat, dumb, and ugly. I believed it. Everyone said it so it must have been true. Then when I was 40 I found pictures of me as a child – I am estranged from my family (gee I wonder why)- and I thought, wow, I was a cute kid! Sad, but cute! I wasn’t fat! Or ugly. Or dumb. Just quiet. Seriously, I wasn’t even chubby. But I sure believed I was.

    In my twenties thru my 40’s I was about 145 to 155 at 5’9″ and very fit. I felt good and stopped worrying about what other people thought.

    Now I am over 50 and really having problems with weight gain, after years of trying not to think about it. It’s the menopause I know. I threw out my stupid scale – funny how that can bring one down – bought some new clothes that fit, and now I just stay active and eat a balanced diet. My bigger clothes are getting looser and I feel good about myself.

    I don’t worry about low-fat or light food, I like to drink beer, and I don’t tell other people what to eat, either.

    I love your recipes and the reader’s recipes because they are real home cooking, from scratch.

    Thanks! By the by, I think you look MAHVELOUS simply MAHVELOUS. :snoopy:

  30. 6-27

    PS I’m with LDF above on the if-my-pants-fit-I’m-happy outlook! :D

  31. 6-27

    Well, Suzanne, have I got some news for you.

    Take a look back at my guest blog from August 2012. See that fat body?

    It’s now fifty pounds lighter. And only fifty more to go before I’m totally satisfied.

    The “secret” is that I learned how to make a nutritious, satisfying, tasty green salad after all these years. And American grocery commerce helped.

    Growing up in the fifties, a “green salad” was iceberg lettuce and some goop on it. Maybe some sliced tomato. Ugh.

    These days the greens section of any decent grocery store has got quite a few varieties of tasty greens available. My general evening meal these days is based on kale, and mixed in with baby spinach, baby arugula, some packaged crunchy “cole slaw” mix. Some cherry tomatoes, olives, scallions and chopped mushrooms fill out the basic mixture. Then maybe I’ll add some chopped cheese or chopped ham or even sardines on top for protein.

    Dressing is always based on olive oil, not dairy. Top it with vinegar or lemon juice or both. I literally do not go hungry for the rest of the night.


    Breakfast and lunch are “low carb”. I’ve entirely done away with bread, potatoes and so on, except for holiday meals. And we still go out to eat twice a month. But low carb.

    Ok, I did add more walking (1.5 miles a day, every day). That helps as well.

    I hope you will do an authoring class again some day. Did the last one work out? If I show up for one, you can see, and photograph, the revised me. I’ll bring steak bones for the dogs, but not for myself!

  32. 6-28

    Whatever you’re doing is clearly working well for you. Your body looks great(does that sound creepy? I don’t mean it to)and the fact that you walk/run and take the dogs with you is terrific. I’ve never owned Pyrs, but did grow up with St. Bernards and I know that taking them on long walks and getting them off our property kept their natural territoriality from getting too extreme. Plus, I can’t image a better way to mentally stimulate everyone involved. By the way, the pictures of all the pooches slopping their way through giant mud puddles were hilarious. Nothing says ‘country’ than wet, muddy, happy dogs.

  33. 6-29

    My theory is that women lose weight when they are:
    1 – falling in love
    2 – falling out of love

    We kind of hover in between.

    Being active is the key. I have had too many fights with trolls who insist all obesity is medical. Phooey. I speak from personal experience. Working in the yard, going to Pilates and eating food that is not processed is the only way I can keep healthy…see I said healty, not skinny.

  34. 6-29

    I couldn’t agree with you more. There is noting like a wonderful exercise in the woods on the back roads or for that fact the cow pasture. Get this, my DH thinks I walk to much and wants me to take the quad to the field. I don’t think so. I am one of those people who can gain weight by looking at food, but I work too hard on this farm and I don’t care if I am slightly chunky.(for now) I have a scales somewhere in the mayhem packed away and it can stay there. I measure my weight by my pant size and I’d better be cutting the portions again. I can’t take much more work.
    You Miss Suzanne are a delightfully beautiful lady and if I were you I wouldn’t be concerned about weight either.

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