I recently read The Dirty Life, on Farming, Food, and Love by Kristin Kimball. She certainly captures the trials of the American small farmer. Kristin and her husband Mark were determined to be organic farmers. Mark had previous farming experience however Kristin had been working as a journalist when she met Mark. Her ability to bring the trials of farm life to the reader in a descriptive and colorful way provides insight into her journalistic talents as well as their sacrifices to be non-industrial farmers.
Kristin reviews the difficulties as “the seasons unfold into years”. Year one was a learning experience as they just attempted to make it and keep their project going while trying to maintain the everyday tasks. Kristen writes; “year two was a good one for vegetables but harder on us even than year one, and so relentlessly hot and humid that four of our Highland cows died during it. Year three was textbook perfect. Year four was somewhat dry, which stressed the plants.”
In summary of the rest of the years: the fifth was too wet and vegetable rot occurred. Year six there was too much rain and they lost all the tomatoes and onions; three tons of them.
It is all so difficult in terms of hard work. Then the financial stress involved makes it even more trying. The money never poured in fast enough as they found it necessary to constantly reinvest in the farm.
I am not sure that CSAs like the one that they developed are the complete answer for many of us to invest in. The super market products may look good but where were the vegetables grown and what chemicals were used to make them look so big and prefect? Organic is expensive and for the dwindling middle class, it is still too expensive. Organic shopping is certainly not an option for those living below the poverty line.
Although Mark and Kristin exemplify the struggles of the small farmer, I would like to offer an alternative. The recent Boston Garden and Flower Show had isles filled with the theme “Romance in the Garden”. http://four-letterword.com/2014/03/19/the-boston-garden-flower-show/ . Just picture yourself making your yard neat with lots of flowers as well as delicious vegetables that are nutritious, without pesticides, herbicides or chemical fertilizers. Finding the balance of growing things without an all or nothing mind set might work for you.
I believe Square Foot Gardening can provide joy and sound environmental practices. Cultivating awareness for conservation might be finally making a small mark on the way we think. Start small, find success and none of us need to worry about losing the farm. As I work with students I can see the value of hands on participation. I have witnessed a new appreciation by students regarding nutrition. It also teaches responsibly. Most everyone enjoys eating what they grow.
And when it is time to harvest, there is no need to put on overalls. Pick what is in season. Gather enough for your dinner. There is no need to recycle the plastic bags. Share the extras with you neighbors which they will love. Compost the rest.
We can all do this, One Square Foot at a Time.
The picture below is the soil at a local CSA. When I first saw it I couldn’t believe much would grow there.