Friday, July 20, 2007

Why I Want to Live on a Farm (and why I probably won't)

Well, it doesn't really have to be a farm. Just a nice place in the country with a huge garden, that will let us grow most of our own food. Farming implies actually working to sell food to other people, and I don't know if I really want to go that far.

I've gardened for years, and in Roxbury I helped manage two local community gardens. Last year, we moved to a pleasant condo in Brookline for various (good) reasons. We have no yard, just a tiny bit of flower space out front. No garden. No community garden within a logical distance. Our old garden isn't much more than a mile away, but I'd need to drive there much of the time, and commuting by car to one's garden seems perverse to me.

All this pastoral longing is in part thanks to Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, which I just finished reading. She and her family moved from Arizona to a family farm in Virginia. Once there, they decided to attempt to eat only food grown locally, for an entire year. They grew vegetables in their garden, raised chickens and turkeys, and bought other produce from local farmers (and gave up bananas and citrus). As she describes their year, Kingsolver writes a lot about the many problems with our current industrial food supply, our unhealthy American food culture (or lack thereof), and her deep ties to farming and family.

It's one of those books, where you feel like they're just the perfect family, living in a little eden. Of course, they have money to help pull this off (she's a bestselling writer and he's a professor) and already owned the land. They seem so content, you can't help but want to go buy some whole milk (not ultra-pasteurized) and a few other ingredients, and make some cheese in your kitchen. (I really am going to do this this summer, I swear.)

The stuff about food really hits home for us, because our family has been working hard to eat much healthier over the past nine months or so, going mostly vegan and cutting out most processed foods. We bought a CSA (community supported agriculture) share, for local, organic produce. And it's been working.

Kingsolver's book covers some of the same ground as Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma, which was a more compelling book for me. Kingsolver tends to wander, and I started her book with the thought that this year of eating locally would be a fresh adventure for her and her family. But they'd already been on the journey for a while, so it lacks a crisp sense of discovery.

For an outsider's trip to a simple life, it's worth reading Better Off by Erick Brende, about an MIT grad and his wife who give up the modern life and go to live in an Amish-like community. Or if you want an intense connection with the land and a different way of looking at the connection between farming, farms, and nature, I'd suggest Wendell Berry or David Kline's Great Possessions: An Amish Farmer's Journal.

We've been known to suddenly pull up stakes and change our lives, but I don't think it'll happen this time. The need for racial diversity and the necessity of the right special needs school program for our son will keep us in place for many years. Plus, Tracy loves her job (and her short commute). Still, I'll always have that tension of wanting to live closer to the land. Maybe someday we'll retire to a small farm somewhere (or a house in the country with a big garden) (near the ocean) (or Paris).

Regardless of where we live, it's essential for us, and for America as a whole, to come to grips with the fact that our industrialized agriculture system is unhealthy for all of us. Small sustainable farms produce better quality food, use less oil, enhance the environment, help bolster our communities, and empower our citizens. With current agricultural policies, our government is actively undermining family farms and enriching large corporate agricultural concerns. The result is an epidemic of obesity and rising environmental hazards from pesticides, fertilizer and topsoil runoff, and irresponsible use of antibiotics and genetically modified organisms. A huge of amount of oil is used to ship all those bananas and off-season produce from countries half a world away to our local Stop and Shop. Buying local (as much as possible, and eating produce that's in season), like Barbara Kingsolver, is a good way to make at least a little bit of a difference.


knicksgrl0917 said...
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sm said...

I just finished Animal, Vegetable, Miracle as well... we started our own veggie garden this year, and this wonderful book is helping us stay motivated to grow our own...

patrick said...

I miss our garden so much. Especially this time of year, when we'd normally be overwhelmed with zucchini and tomatoes (I always plant too much). I could definitely relate to her zuccini stories--I'd always wonder if people would avoid me walking down the street in July, because they knew I'd insist they take a zuke.

Carlos said...
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