Iowa Country Roads: Surviving microbes down on the farm

By Arvid Huisman


In recent years, considerable media attention has been given to food processing and handling, food poisoning, safe drinking water, public sanitation and related concerns. This coverage is valid and I pay attention.


While the odds of getting sick from an undercooked chicken or hamburger patty are relatively slim, why tempt fate? I don’t have the time or desire for stomach cramps, let alone a hospital visit. That said, I sometimes wonder how we survived before scientists learned all these things. I recall common practices in rural Iowa not so many years ago that would send today’s dietary and sanitation experts running for cover.


The water bucket. Now there’s an illness waiting to happen. Before I ever knew the joy of turning a faucet handle for a drink of water, I knew how to quench my thirst by sinking the communal dipper into a bucket of water and enjoying several sloppy swallows. When visiting friends or neighbors we freely drank from their water buckets.


Never mind that the bucket sat open all day and the dipper was used by everyone else in the household including guests and flies. Never mind that the water in the bucket had been drawn from the farm well which served the livestock, too. Never mind that the pump which brought the water up from the well was often located closer to the barn than to the kitchen. If my grandmother had mounted a cute little decorator paper cup dispenser next to her water bucket, my grandfather would have scolded, “Du bist verrückt, Frau!” In English that would be, “You’re crazy, woman!”


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