Always looking for the most comfortable spot.
There have been a million changes to my vision in the past decade or so of my life, but three that really stand out. And by vision I don’t mean, “My vision for the world,” or “My vision for the future.” I literally (okay, and as always, somewhat figuratively) mean how I see.
The first came in 2007. I was in Burgundy, France, where I was staying at a small Bed and Breakfast for the night on a trip through wine country. The B&B had this beautiful patio and garden area for guests where I spent the evening reading Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma for the first time. After that day, I could hardly put the book down. And when I returned to the states a few days later, I couldn’t stop thinking about what I was eating. The entire world of food was suddenly punctuated with giant question marks––where did it come from? How was it raised? What’s in this? My blissful ignorance about food was irreparably destroyed by that book. Never again could I ignore factory farms, or artificial ingredients, or the impact those things have on ourselves and our environment. My vision, in this sense, was forever altered.
The second change came from farming itself. I remember I returned to New York for a visit after my first year interning and the city looked tangibly different to me. It wasn’t just a city of buildings, bars and concrete, but I could suddenly see Nature, creeping up out of the cracks in the sidewalks. I could see yards, parks, trees, animals. I noticed flowers and insects. I had lived in New York for nearly five years and never once did I really consider how much nature was there. Not enough, some might argue––I might argue––but more than I’d ever seen.
And the most recent, and arguably most profound, change to my vision has been parenthood. My God, has parenthood changed my vision. I recently went to the market and all I could see were the kids. I saw infants and thought of Further in his first month on the planet. I saw toddlers and thought of his next few years. There were a few awkward teenagers, tall and gangly and uncomfortable. That, I couldn’t help but think, will one day be Further. If I had never become a parent, I would have probably never noticed the other fathers, the other Furthers, the other mothers and families. But now I see them. Now I understand them. Now I get it. Now, I love it.
What I appreciate about these three changes is how complimentary of one another they have been. The concern I developed for food through Omnivore’s Dilemma pairs nicely with my newfound appreciation of nature and my life as a parent. I care about the future of this place for Further. I care about it for myself and for Hannah and for all the other parents. Nature, I care about Nature for every reason. Sometimes I admittedly wish I could just go back to fast food and laziness, but it’s just not possible. I can’t unlearn those things. Not as a parent. Not as a lover of food and Nature. Not with these eyes. Never again.
Monday, May 18
I wake up to the sound of Hannah sniffling and sneezing. Allergy season is a bummer around here for all of us––something that grows nearby really loves to pester our family. So I get out of bed to get her some tissue, then decide to start my day with a nice, warm fire in our already nice, warm house, per usual.
4:30 – 7:15 a.m.
I spend this time working on articles and making pancakes for breakfast. Hannah and Further get up around six, at which point he begins his daily hour of smiles, contemplation and, most recently, growling. It’s probably his cutest new maneuver. I also feed the pigs in this time block. They’re warming up to us, but I know how it goes. Once they are no longer afraid of us, they will be pushing us over to get to the food. Smart? Definitely. Friendly? Sure. But decorous? Not so much.
I go to the gardens to harvest for our first CSA delivery and somehow forget everything I need. Rusty, I guess. Long winter. So added into this time period is a trip back to the house to get the harvest bins, baskets and the harvest knife.
When I get back to the house I switch roles with Hannah. She begins to get everything cleaned and organized while I take over baby duty, which basically just consists of me giggling and laughing and cooing while Further stares at me incredulously. It’s symbiotic.
I drive onto the hill to take care of emails which will never cease to be ridiculous. Oh, I guess until we get electricity and internet here. Then it will cease, I suppose.
12 – 1:30 p.m.
I cook some pasta, beef and mushrooms for lunch and while I’m waiting for it to get done I do some mulching. If you ever find me not multitasking, I’m probably sick and you should maybe make me some soup or take me to the hospital.
1:30 – 3 p.m.
A bunch of piddly farm things happen in this time block that are not necessarily noteworthy––watering plants, checking on mushroom logs, weeding the strawberries, taking an eight minute power nap. You know, the usual.
3 p.m. – 5 p.m.
We drive to Tompkinsville to meet a shareholder and give her her food as well as stop by our beloved Brutons and pick up supplies for our water system which we plan to put together this weekend. And yes, we’re excited, but the supplies cost double what we anticipated, so it’s a little bittersweet.
5 p.m. – 7 p.m.
Bittersweet or not, when we get home I spend the next hour and a half or so putting the pipe together and hauling everything to the spring. I’m elated because water is finally happening, which helps when you’re hauling heavy pipe over a creek and up a hill. Our dear friends the Ladniers will be joining us this weekend to help get the water going, and do some good old fashioned hanging out. Running water––oh man, sounds like a dream.
7 – 8 p.m.
I watch Further again so Hannah can get ready for market the next day and also work on some writing. Further growls some more––which is still pretty amazing––and I coo. Our conversations are extraordinary.
8 – 9:30 p.m.
I drive back on the hill in the dark to do internet work, and enjoy the company of a million or so lightning bugs, who all seem thoroughly perplexed by my headlights––by the two giant lightning bugs that just arrived. Then I go back home, have a salad and some chips, do a bit more writing (which I know, is not a very fun task to read about) and then finally join the wife and baby in bed.
We went to visit an Amish friend of ours who got me thinking. She’d recently (and regrettably) raised chickens on some cheap GMO feed (corn and soybean) and the experience disgusted her. I mean that literally. She said that when it came time to butcher the chickens, the livers all fell apart and were rendered inedible, that their insides were mush. And she––who had probably been processing chickens her whole life––couldn’t stand to eat them.
One of our local friends who has stopped growing or feeding GMO crops told me he recently took some hogs to a processor and the processor said the hogs had the cleanest insides they’d ever seen. A buddy who was with him said he’d never heard the processor say anything like that. (Notably, our poultry processor said the same thing about our turkeys last year––best they’d seen.).
Yet another neighbor, who does raise some GMO crops, told me how he’s noticed the deer and cattle won’t graze the GMO corn stalks, and that all of his animals vastly prefer the non-GMO stuff.
So what then happens to our insides when we consume GMO crops through our burgers, our soy milks, our BABY FORMULA, our soda, our processed foods or what have you? Probably the exact same thing. Now, I keep hearing these scientists proclaiming there is nothing wrong with genetically engineered crops––that we’re all overreacting––but if I have a number of relatively conventional farmers, and their animals, telling me they don’t want to use GMO crops anymore, that tells me something. Really, that tells me everything I need to know.
The Young Farmer Movement is interesting in that many of us young farmers are really only getting a year or two experience before striking out on our own. That’s what Hannah and I did originally, before coming back to Bugtussle. And looking back, I realize how little experience I actually had because––six years in––I continue to learn many of the things I should have known then.
People do this in other industries, obviously. People start restaurants that have never trained under chefs. People can start a dance or photography studio if they are self taught. But what’s unique perhaps to farming is that farmers don’t really have a choice in the matter. You could technically train under a chef for years. You could be an assistant to a photographer or a professional dancer (sorry, these are the best comparisons my 5 a.m. brain can come up with). Sure, there are a few small farms in the country who can hire full time employees for several years––long enough for them to get the proper experience––but most can’t. And most young farmers can’t work for free or for stipends for six or seven years until they’re ready to take over their own place. It’s just not reasonable.
If we want more small farmers, we need a way to help small farmers get the training and experience they need to be successful. Of course, this was intended as more of an observational post than a proposal, but I do think there are things we could do. One: what about taking some of those subsidies out of the hands of Big Ag and putting them into the pockets of small farmers specifically for hiring help and training young farmers? Maybe we could start more debt forgiveness programs for young farmers. What about encouraging more established farmers to sell small amounts of land to their apprentices (like some farmers you know)? I don’t know what the answer is, or if young farmers really want to train for that long. But speaking from experience I can honestly say, I don’t know what I would do without these past few years still working with my mentors. We would have made a lot more silly and costly mistakes, that much I can be sure of.