I’ve often been inspired by Wendell Berry.
I got into farming early on, beginning with gardening and homesteading endeavors in high school and leading to an internship on a small grass based livestock and organic vegetable production farm in Maryland. Still unsure of what to do or where to go with my passion for food and therefore food production I continued my varied pursuits.
A year later I was spending the summer in New Jersey and a friend had the book The Unsettling of America and I read it over a few weeks during my busy schedule at the time. I can still remember being in a Starbucks cafe and reading through the book for the first time and me with pencil in hand underlining every other line—baffled by the complexity and depth of the book. It resonated so deeply with everything that I’d learned about agriculture and culture and right and wrong methods of farming. It made so much sense of the world.
“A competent farmer is his own boss. He has learned the disciplines necessary to go ahead on his own, as required by economic obligation, loyalty to his place, pride in his work. His workdays require the use of long experience and practiced judgement, for the failures of which he knows that he will suffer. His days do not begin and end by rule, but in response to necessity, interest, and obligation. They are not measured by the clock, but by the task and his endurance; they last as long as necessary or as long as he can work. He has mastered intricate formal patterns in ordering his work within the overlapping cycles—human and natural, controllable and uncontrollable —of the life of a farm.
Such a man, upon moving to the city and taking a job in industry becomes a specialized subordinate, dependent upon the authority and judgement of other people. His disciplines are no longer implicit in his own experience, assumptions, and values, but are imposed on him from the outside. For a complex responsibility he has substituted a simple dutifulness.” 1.
“That is because the best farming requires a farmer—a husbandman, a nurturer—not a technician or businessman. A technician or a businessman, given the necessary abilities and ambitions, can be made in a little while, by training. A good farmer, on the other hand, is a cultural product; he is made by a sort of training, certainly, in what his time imposes or demands, but he is also made by generations of experience. This essential experience can only be accumulated, tested, preserved, handed down in settled households, friendships, and communities that are deliberately and carefully native to their own ground, in which the past has prepared the present and the present safeguards the future.” 2.
Farming is very interesting to me. I’m not in it for the money by any means—and yet if I can’t make a living from it I’m not sure I want to continue in it. I believe creativity is important, and finding ways to express that is essential to a healthy life. But it is not sustainable for me physically, mentally or financially to pour thousands of hours into an enterprise that ultimately doesn’t work out profitably. And first and foremost we put the land first, the soil has to be regenerating in order for anything to be sustainable but we have to make it work economically in this day and age or it just won’t continue.
I have hope. I see dozens of people around the globe who are doing sustainable agriculture and making it work for them. They are being profitable with their enterprises and I’m not doing this thinking that I’ll never get there. That vision and hope are what keep me going on the hard days, when the bank account is not where it should be, and debts still need to be paid. I guess I understand enough about small business and entrepreneurs to know that the first few years are tough—really hard. Most people don’t start off their business working full-time on it and not have any ‘nest egg’. I guess I was a little naive and pretty adventurous—I didn’t really fully know what I was getting myself into when I started. I started this farming venture without any money set aside and I’ve had to work on the side the whole time I’ve been farming in order to stay alive. It’s a journey, a process—but that’s any business. You start somewhere and end up doing something usually a bit different. You have to adapt and change and be able to keep up with everything.
I read Wendell Berry when I need to be re-inspired—when I’m working hard long days and I need to remember why I’m doing it. We all need it. We all need to remember why we are passionate about what we’re doing. Ask ourselves again “Why am I here, doing this?”. It’s firstly out of love, a love for food, food production, and providing food for people in a way that benefits the earth, the customers, and myself. I’m here to put healthy food back on the table. To get back to our roots and return to wholesome community.
1. The Unsettling of America, pg. 44 Wendell Berry
2. The Unsettling of America, pg 45 Wendell Berry
PC: Zach English