Although the landscape east of the Mississippi hasn’t exactly wooed me thus far (more on that in a later post), I have really enjoyed watching how the barns change from one state to another. This one caught my attention because it was white, where most of the barns in Kentucky have been a weathered-black.


While I was in the process of snapping some photos, a shiny red truck pulled into the driveway across the street. A tall white-haired gentleman emerged and with a slightly geriatric gate loped towards us. Judging from the pinched lips and furrowed brow, I assumed he was coming to kick us off his land. But, as he got closer, his foreboding facial expressions softened into a smile, and we proceeded with the pleasantries of handshakes and personal introductions. He turned out to be the owner of the barn, and proudly let us in on some of it’s history.

I learned that those decals on the barn in the foreground are actually quite rare, and highly sought after by those in the antique-decal-know. I also learned that while the barn in the back looks better maintained, it actually hasn’t been painted for twenty or thirty years. Meanwhile, the smaller barn requires painting annually and still looks shabby. The reason? The big barn was painted with lead-infused paint, which lasts longer than the newer stuff.

Our farmer friend concluded his history lesson by saying, “They’re trying to take everything good away these days. I been smoking since I was six years old, and I’m still alive. What you gotta watch out for is in the margarine. That’s what’s gonna kill ya.”

We chuckled, and nodded in modest agreement. Earlier that morning, we had been meandering through the rolling green hills, unwinding our thoughts on agribusiness and the inherent dangers of large-scale food production versus buying local. Lead paint and six-year-old’s-smoking aside, the guy had a point about the margarine. Seeing he had a captive audience, the farmer asked to tell a joke before sending us on our way. “I think you’re gonna like this one,” he said. I’ll retell it as best I can now, although for full effect try to imagine the sights and sounds of the scene; the raspy voice infused with an Appalachian drawl, the wind through the old oak tree, the tabby cat in the graveled driveway, and the white peeling barn with colored decals:

A young girl of six or seven is in the grocery store with her mother. The girl spots a sign advertising a contest put on by Carnation Milk. All you have to do, says the sign, is come up with a new jingle for the company, and you can win $1,000.

“Mama,” says the girl, “can I try to write a jingle?”

“Well, sure” says Mama.

And so the girl walks towards the sign and pulls off one of the little contest strips. When she gets home, she sits down at the kitchen table with a pencil and writes the following:

Carnation milk, best in the land. Comes in a little red and white can.

Something through the screen door catches her attention, and before she finishes addressing the slip, she pops outside to investigate. Well, her older brother happens to walk into the kitchen at this time, notices the slip, and proceeds to finish filling it out. 

Well about a month later, a little yellow envelop appears in the mail. While the family is seated around the table, Mama opens the envelope and shares the wonderful news that little sister has earned $1,000.

“Well hold on, now” says older brother, “I do believe you owe me half of that check.” 

What do you mean?” says little sister.

Well, you never finished the jingle. I finished it for you.” 

Carnation milk, best in the land. Comes in a little red and white can.

No teats to squeeze, no hay to pitch. Just poke a hole in that son of a b*#@!.

We all had a good laugh at that and, after saying our goodbyes, went our separate ways. Grinning through the grinding hills an hour later, I noticed my mood shifting gears. Perhaps it was the sweat and the sore legs, or perhaps it was the realization that the farmer’s joke will soon be on us if we continue to rely on large-scale companies to provide chemically enhanced foods in convenient little packages. I guess there is some hope for the future; we evolved enough to know better than to use lead in paint. Now how about getting the multi-syllable chemical strands out of our foods and getting back to basics?