26 May 2011

Farming Vicariously

I don't know about you, but sometimes I want to run away to a farm. There's a romance about digging in the dirt, growing acres of vegetables, feeding slops to the pig, and spinning wool from the ewes that also give you milk and lambs. I'm unlikely to actually give up my suburban lifestyle and urban paycheck, but that doesn't mean I can't grow some herbs, blueberries, rhubarb and the occasional tomato. Much as I'd like chickens, I can't have 'em because my town requires 10 acres for a chicken (yesterday's chickens were NOT at my house), but I could have bees if I were really possessed. Anyway, kittens are on the agenda before any other livestock.

Needless to say, I find a certain fascination in reading books by people who have actually found a way to live off the land. Joan Dye Gussow's This Organic Life is a how-to book, a polemic, a primer on sustainable agriculture on a very small scale; she lives in a NYC suburb up on the Hudson. Living The Good Life by Helen & Scott Nearing is a little more hardcore. They ran off to a farm near the coast of Maine, and found ways to live there simply and self-reliantly. Despite the forbidding climate, they gardened nearly year-round, relying on cold frames and greenhouses.

In the past couple of months, I've read two newer personal narratives, both by NYC women off to seek another life in farming.

Angela Miller, a literary agent turned cheese maker, doesn't actually give up her life in NYC - she becomes a weekend farmer - but she does seem to get her hands dirty and to know what she's talking about. Unfortunately, while I learned a bunch about cheese making and goat husbandry in her book Hay Fever, Miller came across as distinctly unlikeable and totally full of herself. I've no desire to knock on her Vermont door, even though her Consider Bardwell cheese is pretty good. (Then again, she has a hired cheesemaker making it...)

The Dirty Life, on the other hand, is by a charming woman named Kristin Kimball, who does move part and parcel - falling hard for a Swarthmore-educated farmer and finally marrying him. They create a "full diet" farm in the Adirondacks, with the idea that it sustain many families on a CSA model, but including grain, meat, and honey in addition to fruits and vegetables. Her book is delightfully written, and despite coloring farm life as palpably dirty and enervatingly tiring, she manages to make it sound thoroughly agreeable. And if I ever happen to be driving by Essex Farm, I'll probably hang my head over a fence and hope to be invited in.

If I vanish, look for me in a field, cultivating behind a pair of horses.

11 comments:

Mental P Mama said...

Can I come along, too?

Awesome Mom said...

I have been wanting to do this sort of thing since I was a teenager. Once my husband retires from the military our plan is to find a hunk of land and try our hand at homesteading.

FreshHell said...

Living in the country, as I do, I know how hard and how expensive it is to farm full-time. I couldn't do it. I don't want the responsibility of all those animals (I like the idea of a goat but I'm not committed to raising one right now). I do have a decent sized garden and grow summer vegetables and strawberries. I don't have the time I'd like to REALLY grow stuff. My husband keeps joking I should sell produce at a road stand but my garden doesn't make quite enough. It's a kitchen garden. I don't have the fence building/barn fixing skills needed. I can't afford a tractor. I'd love a hive but it's a lot of money up front plus the smoker, the outfit, the time, etc. Maybe when I retire (ha) I can get some chickens, a goat, a beehive and expand the garden.

Bibliomama said...

Yeah, chickens wouldn't really work around here either - we did have a family of ducks walk down the street last summer that caused quite a stir. I like growing herbs and vegetables, badly, with limited success. Farmers get up too damn early. Plus I'm kind of getting used to not having to clean up anybody else's shit.

Emily said...

Now I will get her book.

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

I kind of want chickens. The people in the house behind mine and to the right have a little coop, though, so I get to have them vicariously. The make the loveliest sound.

nonlineargirl said...

TEN acres? In Portland you can have up to 3 chickens with only a few rules about how far they need to be from houses. Lots of people around here have chickens - our cross the street neighbors occasionally give us fresh eggs. Yum!

yogurt said...

Very glad our city has lax laws about chickens. We've got less than one acre and 3 chickens (started out as five). I'd love to learn how to make cheese. But that's not gonna happen. I'm not a big fan of getting down and dirty to that degree.

n said...

thank you for the reading list. I was obsessed with the Nearings! And Joan (can I call her by her first name?) she is amazing, but I'm getting The Dirty Life immediately.

Elissa said...

Loved The Dirty Life. Just finished Goat Song by Brad Kessler - fiction writer who raises goats and makes cheese. Beautifully written - so impressed I read his novel Birds in Fall. Wonderful too.

I too imagine running off - to a farm - more likely a meditation retreat. Instead, we're about to add two chickens to our urban city life - actually appeals to my need for civil disobedience. The Mayor just vetoed a progressive chicken law. What a rooster! - E

She Curmudgeon said...

I really miss living in Western Mass. When I win the lottery, it's goat cheese and herb farming for me near the Connecticut River.