But as my dad will tell you, his generation was raised in the era when “bigger is better” was the defining mandate for all agriculture. Bigger fields, bigger machines, bigger yields . . . Now, we, our society, is paying for that mindset. In agriculture (and in most things, I would argue) bigger is not really better. It’s just, well, bigger.
I’ve come to this view mostly through reading. The work of people like Michael Pollan, Mark Bittman, Barbara Kingsolver, and Jonathan Saffran Foer have greatly influenced the way I think about food and the agriculture that brings it to us.
Thus, it was only a natural step that I should start reading about farmers and farming. I started with Joel Salatin, and his ideas on rotational grazing and animal care began to shape and mold my views on how my farm might come to be. But Salatin’s style is brusque (perhaps it needs to be given the massive political and economic lobby that opposes his methods of farming), and that’s a tone I find hard to read. Still, I will read his work, just in smaller doses.
When I FINALLY came to Wendell Berry – having known (but sadly not read) his fiction and his essays on things like computers – it was with a mind and heart hungry to learn. I wasn’t disappointed. His writing is clear and lucid, without the aggressiveness that characterizes some of Salatin’s work. Yet, he is saying the same things – we must farm small and diverse. We must learn to live locally, to conserve our environment, to treat our animals well. We must stop thinking that the measure of success for a farm is how much income it brings in, but instead measure it by how well it sustains the people who tend it and the people around them.
I’m in the midst of Bringing It to the Table: On Farming and Food, and while I cannot read much more than an essay a day because I have so much to consider, I savor every word. His writings have encouraged me to think about more diversity of animals on my farm, keeping in mind, of course, that I have to be able to care for them. I’m also even more invested now in supporting local growers and businesses. Big box stores – I will do my absolutely best to never grace your doors again. I’m eager to grow my own food and share it with the people I know.
I don’t know how to put into place all the things Berry suggests or how to change the government systems that subsidize food production so much that it undervalues our food and keeps the farmers constantly endebted. I don’t know how to convince people that we will all treasure the strawberry so much more if we wait until June to eat it. I don’t know how to show how horrific factory farming is for animals and for human animals.
What I do know is that I can do these things on my farm. Local. . . my place. . . where I can make a difference. I can’t wait to start.
What food issues concern you? Any wisdom on how we can improve this aspect of our lives?