Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Crazy Farm People

Nature's Harmony Farm

   I feel an indescribable urge to write. To write...Right...Now. Maybe it's the fact that  I have been seriously slacking in the blogging department as of late, maybe it's the wine, but I think it's just plain inspiration. I have been reading a new book (well, one of several) that is acting as muse tonight.
   The book is called The Accidental Farmers, and the author is Tim Young. Tim and his lovely wife Liz are both farmers at Nature's Harmony Farm in the ye ole tiny town of Elberton, GA (yeah, I asked where the hell that was too). I had the pleasure of meeting them both at a Farm School they hosted last year, and then later I had the opportunity to make cheese with Tim and their awesome intern Amanda, not to mention buy the amazing naturally-raised meat, eggs, and cheese they sell. So while I do not know them well, I consider them all to be friends of mine.
   Naturally, when they released a book, I had to buy a copy right away. As of this moment I am 3/4 of the way through it, so I imagine I will be mentioning it again. Besides the personal ties I have to buying their book, and the idea I am in love with of farming and making a living off of the land, I want to talk about this book because it challenges and ingrains some very important issues and ideologies in my mind.
   I think besides the idea that farming is a hard-working lifestyle that requires early morning rooster wake-up calls, the majority of people picture a country farm life as a picturesque setting filled with sweet baby animals and awe inspiring landscapes. I commend Tim for both agreeing with and challenging this view point. I admire the fact that he lays out all of the negatives alongside the positives, and doesn't hide the ugly side of farming. There will always be death, there will always be illness. If you are an animal lover, it is always heart wrenching to experience both, even among many.
   I think what I find so surprising is that I am not deterred by this. I consider myself to be a huge animal lover, I wanted to be a veterinarian for all of my childhood, and have owned more animal species than most would in a lifetime. So the idea that I would be Ok with losing those that I raised from birth is a little startling, and reassuring. Maybe it is because I have already dabbled in the world of slaughtering my own food, but while death is not a desirable aspect of farming, expecting it is a must.
   I agree with many of both Liz and Tim's views on farming, in particular those pertaining to raising animals in the hopes they will "get back with nature". In our pursuit of cheap food, the animals we have raised have lost so much of their "animalness" in the process. They succumb to a number of diseases without medicinal help, cannot survive on natural forage alone, and most disturbingly, forgot how to breed on their own. To mimic nature and produce offspring that will eventually follow suit, unfortunately means an inevitable death toll, which Tim is quick to point out. I appreciate such honesty and transparency, and strangely it makes me feel better, maybe because I instinctively believe that everything that sounds too good to be true always will be.
   But the real reason for my rant tonight was actually inspired by a question he proposes to his readers. "What is it that so many feel is lacking or missing in their lives that creates interest in this lifestyle?" The "lifestyle" of course being that of homesteading, farming, and just a general interest in lost arts such as food preservation. For whatever reason, this question struck me to the core. Probably because I had never really thought about it before. I had always sort of assumed that my interest in things such as cheese making had stemmed from such an intense love of both cheese and animals. But I believe it is deeper than that. I have not always had such strong feelings for salami or pate. Had you asked me several years ago, I would not have been able to tell you what pancetta was.
   Why do more and more people feel such a need to seek out traditions that have long since been abandoned? Why are there almost 1,500 microbreweries in America now, compared to a mere 82 in 1980? Why has the online CharcutePalooza challenge been such a wild success? It is a question worth pondering that there are no right nor wrong answers for. I have been thinking about that question all night, and while I still don't have a definitive answer, I think the more important point here is that I am thinking about it.
   Having a passion doesn't necessarily need a clear cut reason. A woman who goes completely gaga over babies doesn't need to explain it anymore than the nut (myself) that flips out over fuzzy animals. But probing deeper into one's psyche is important I think. Getting deeper into the whys helps you better figure out what is just a phase, and what is a lifelong commitment. And more importantly, what your values are.
   Just the idea of farming day in and day out is a difficult thing to wrap my mind around, so why am I so attracted to it? An easy answer would be control. But just because you are electing to raise your own food or make your own beer does not exactly mean you have control over it. You have more control over what goes on your cheeseburger than how a batch of cheese will turn out. It's not about providing for yourself, you can do that so much more easily at the grocery store.

Nature's Harmony Farm
Farmstead Cheese

   So what is it? I'm not sure, and I would love your input here, because every reason is a good one. For me, it goes beyond avoiding chemicals or being healthier. I think it is the overwhelming feeling I have when a chicken that provides me with my breakfast follows me around the yard, or an enthusiastic friend samples a cured meat I have spent weeks preparing. It's not just about being "green", or even preserving the past, but about preserving relationships and community, with both humans and animals. In an age of technology and faceless communication, forging a life in things that are "real", not only nourishes your body and soul, but nourishes those around you and connects you to a unique community in ways you would not have expected, whether you sell for a profit or not.
   Even those of us who consider ourselves to be socially aloof (myself included) I think subconsciously  yearn for a connection to those around us that is real and lasting. I believe it is a primal need to share with those dearest to us, and what could be more valuable than something you grew or crafted yourself. Nothing says love more clearly. That can mean your closest friends, or your local food community. It's about keeping alive a "community" that has spanned generations, not just the present.
   I am grateful for being attracted to what most would consider a very bizarre way of life, and to be friends with so many around me that fuel my fire and challenge my way of thinking. Thanks Tim for asking a question I will no doubt ask myself for a long time to come.

Nature's Harmony Farm
A happy Nature's Harmony Farm pig


  1. I think you said it pretty well. It's the connection to the land, my food sources, the animals and to others who share my excitement. Farming for me is also connected to my interest in making things - pottery, sewing, cooking and other crafts. I'm so happy to have you around to share this with!

  2. Yes, I agree. I think deep down we all have a desire to "make" things, but for most it goes unrealized, and I think that attributes to why sooo many people are so unfullfilled with their lives. I am only truly happy when I am "making".

  3. Great write up. I think you're right on target with reconnection. We invest so much time, effort, and technology trying to isolate ourselves from the world that we are ultimately a part of.
    Is it any wonder that more and more people are starting to question the merits of such an existence?

  4. You're not helping me embrace the city life and keep chickens out of my back yard.

  5. I think it's more our need to share with our community- to bring something (literally) to the table. Our job in an office no longer fufill a lot of us so we look for something to fill that void. To create, to sustain, to work really really hard for something we love. Excellent remark as to delving deeper and ask hard questions: is this a phase or a life-transforming commitment?


  6. Thegoodyogi hit the nail on the head; my job/career has no real meaning.

    If all of the computers, electricity, televisions, cell phones, shut down at this moment I could not perform my office job.

    In contrast, my garden continues to grow and the chickens continue to lay eggs, and I continue to move piles of weeds, compost and chicken poo back and forth. What I do here has real meaning. I feed the weeds to the birds, the birds feed me the eggs, the poo feeds the plants and around we go again.

    I am just as addicted to the material world (money) as anyone else, and I enjoy this computer (obviously)but it is the sun, dirt, plants and birds that make me feel alive and give me life.

  7. For me I think part of it goes back to my childhood and part is a relatively new found realization that the industrial food complex is just plain screwed up.
    When I was a wee boy my family would take our summer vacations visiting my mother's family in Missouri. Back then farming was still the traditional and respectable lifestyle that most people today envision it. My aunt and uncle were hog farmers. Their farm was far out from town that you had to travel down a maze of dirt roads to get to. I remember when I was very young they still relied on a windmill to pump their water from the well, my aunt washed clothes on an old ringer type washing machine and their phone was a "party line" meaning they shared the connection with several neighbors. On these summer trips my aunt would take me to the farm and I would spend several days there, I think if I could I would have spent the rest of my life there. There was so much to do. There were always the pigs, a few cows, chickens, dogs, cats, the barn, hay and all the farm smells. In the house there were home canned fruits and vegetables, fresh meat, homemade pies and deserts. Yeah, a hog farm has a smell of its own and today every time I smell that piggy smell I’m transferred to my boyhood days and my uncles farm. I attribute these yearly visits for helping to develop my love for the outdoors and all things natural.
    Fast forward to today. One evening, I by chance, stumbled upon the documentary “King Corn” and my view of modern day farming and our food supply was changed forever. Then came ”Food Inc” and my enlightenment turned to anger as I became aware of the evils of the industrial food complex and how it’s influence and corruption extends as far up as the White House, Congress and even The Supreme Court. Yeah, that’s the three branches of our government and they have a degree of control over all of it!
    So why does farming appeal to me? I think the idea of it puts me closer to the land. I like the idea of a life style of hard labor and working outdoors. I like the idea of living simply and in harmony with nature. I like the idea of extending a middle finger to the Cargills and Monsanto’s out there and telling then to F-off! Farming in the organic and natural way just seems right.

  8. I love to read everyone's opinion here. Thegoodyogi/inhale,exhale...it's so very true, at the end of the day, the chickens keep laying..the garden keeps growing. No iPads or cellphones needed. Doug, your account is beautiful. It is what I strive for in my own life.