It turns out that I will have been doing work related to agriculture for 25 years this year and will have been doing it full time for a decade this August. It’s strange to imagine having done anything for that long, and the fact that thing is growing food is sometimes even stranger to me.
A rather ridiculous comment on a post I wrote eight years ago brought me back to this blog with a thought: why, after all this time, are we still unwilling to have a rational discussion about the issues facing food production in the 21st century?
Honestly, if there is anything I have learned over the past 25 years, it’s that this business is crushed by presumption, hyperbole, traditionalism, and tribalism to a degree that makes talking about the fact it is also slowly failing nearly impossible. Even making the statement I just did, if anyone reads it, will provoke ire and attacks before it incites thought or a desire to discuss.
To me, that reality is the biggest reason agriculture is in the state it is in. We, as a society, simply can’t be calm or rational long enough to admit that this undertaking is as big and complicated and unpredictable as the weather it depends on and, until we’re willing to embrace the tolerance and flexibility the weather demands, we’re going to just keep seeing things getting worse.
I wish I saw a positive trend here, but I don’t. I’m not sure we’re capable of figuring this out anymore. If I’m wrong, show me. I’m willing to listen.
There are few things like a disaster of one’s own making to cause one to reevaluate.
We’ve had more than a few disasters, big and small, since we came back to Innisfree on the Stillwater. They kind of come with the territory of taking over this kind of an enterprise and learning on the fly.
While disasters can sometimes be setbacks and can also be demoralizing, we also use them as a chance to evaluate what we are doing and come up with ways to do them better, not just to correct a specific mistake but also to ensure that our approach is the best one to use.
The result is a cycle of disaster, reevaluation, and recommitment. It would be easy to give up when things go wrong, but nobody ever said what we are doing was going to be easy. Instead, we figure out how to do what we are doing better and move on.
In the end, that’s the only way to succeed at farming.
It’s been five years since Keba and I returned to Innisfree with the idea of creating a sustainable homestead and refuge from the ravages of the modern world. So far, that quest has been unlike any experience I have ever had.
It would be easy to dwell on the parts that haven’t gone the way we would have liked or the challenges we still face, but the fact is that, despite those things, neither of us can imagine doing anything else. For people like us, the fact we still want to do it speaks a lot to how embracing the lifestyle of historical agriculture gets in a person’s blood.
Over the next several weeks, I will be writing about some of the experiences we’ve had, the lessons we’ve learned, and the challenges we face. I hope you come along for that journey and retrospective.
This challenge isn’t just about proving you can grow your own food, although that is an important part. It’s also about being ready.
To that end, I challenge you to do any or all of the following:
Plant a 10 food by 10 foot plot of fall planted cereal grain by October 10th. Such grains include winter wheat, rye, and some kinds of barley and oats. Good sources for this kind of seed include Bountiful Gardens and The Sustainable Seed Company
Install and plant a cold frame with fall plantings of lettuce or root vegetables.
Purchase a small patio greenhouse and populate it with potted vegetables.
If you have an existing garden, consider planting and covering rows of lettuce or root vegetables.
You can do this, but you have to do it. Your first step toward feeding yourself can start with this.
The beginning of the new school year reminds me that I have reached a milestone: one year since I started farming full-time.
It’s been a bumpy year, with big successes and catastrophic failures along the way. I’ve learned more in the past year than I think I have in the rest of my life put together, and for the first time in a very long time, I think I can say I am not the person I was a year ago.
Overall, I think I would give myself a D+ for this year. I had huge ambition and huger plans but very little concept of what I was undertaking. That’s not to say that my ambition and plans for next year are any less grand, but frankly, I was clueless last year at this time, and the past twelve months revealed that lack of understanding for everything it was.
I could go on for a long time about what I have learned, what I have realized, and what I plan to do, but I think the details of those things are best left for different posts. In the mean time, here’s to another year!