There’s something about land, something that feels not just elemental but, if you’ll pardon the unintended pun, grounded. I inherited that feeling perhaps from my father, who bought land in various states and, despite not living on the family farm, purchased another nearby farm as well, both farmed now by tenants (and their sons) who also farm their own farms and others as well. To own land is to feel that I have a place, a home, somewhere to go if “things get bad.”
I have good memories of the family farm (http://sustainabilitea.wordpress.com/2012/04/15/down-on-the-farm-the-first-part/) but I acknowledge that to the farmer and farm family there’s much more to actually being a farmer than the fun you have when visiting as a child. It’s a lot of work, no matter the technology brought to bear on farming itself. Technology won’t take care of the animals in the winter, won’t pick the crops unaided, won’t do the myriad of tasks that are required to make a sometimes meager living, although technology can help and make farming easier.
People may take food for granted (never thinking of the farmers at all), look down on the “rubes” who do it (who wouldn’t prefer to live in the superior city with all its culture, restaurants and stores??), or romanticize it, not really realizing all it takes out of people as well as gives to them. Terra Brockman’s book, The Seasons on Henry’s Farm: a year of food and life on a sustainable farm, seems to perfectly juxtapose the beauty of the land, its produce and the joys of working with it against the actual hard work involved. Near the end of the book, she writes:
“All of this work becomes urgent in October, the month most still know as the month of the Harvest Moon. The very words drip with the honey of nostalgia. They bathe and soothe in the soft glow of oldtimey love songs that implore the moon to ‘shine on, shine on…’ not for work in the fields, but for ‘me and my gal.’
“Notwithstanding the pleasures of moonlit love, the Harvest Moon was named not for dallying, but for the hard work of harvesting. And this is what we do throughout all the shortening days of this month.”
Nostalgia and hard work. Beauty and effort. On a sustainable, organic farm, the effort is even greater. You can’t just go out and spray the latest pesticide on everything. You have to dig or hoe out weeds. You have to pick bugs off plants by hand. You have to get up early (very early) to get all or most of your daily work done daily. You have to work late at night, in all sorts of weather. You have to get up early (very early) to get to the farmers markets you attend.
The farm is Henry’s, brother of Terra, who helps farm the family land, and Teresa, who grows fruit and herbs not far away in central Illinois, and of two other sisters as well. Terra’s account takes you week by week through fifty-two weeks of a year on the farm, which is tucked in an area which, except for the fields, must look much as it did hundreds of years ago, in contrast to the traditional chemical-soaked cornfields surrounding it. Terra started writing a weekly Food & Farm Notes email for customers to let them know what was happening on the farm as well as what was coming to market that week. You can still find it online at http://www.terrabrockman.com/Other_Writing/tow_foodnfarmnotes.html, as well as more about Henry’s farm. As the email expanded to include contributions from Teresa on her fruit and herbs, from their father and from several nieces, the reader feedback let Terra know that her readers were looking for more than just what was ripe and at the market this week. They were looking for that connection with the earth, with food and those growing it. The eventual result: this book.
The book has stories, recipes and photos. What attracted me was the stark beauty of the writing as Terra tells the story. Not stark in the sense of plain and unattractive but elemental, to the point, unadorned; simple in the way that farming is “simple.” And it struck me later that Terra ‘s name means “earth.” How perfect.
The book also made me think and re-think about farmers markets. I love farmers markets, but they’re often expensive. Although my mind tells me that what I’m buying there is better for me as well as simply tasting better, my years of frugal upbringing throw dollar signs in front of me as well. This book explains why organic food costs more. Not that this is the point of the book, but when I read about all that’s involved in raising organic, sustainable food, it’s obvious that it has to cost more.
Henry’s an interesting person, a Renaissance man of many talents and much knowledge. He juggles schedules, fields, what to pick when and a myriad of other tasks. He decides what to plant, based on what people are buying as well as what he wants to plant and grows over 600 varieties of over 100 vegetables. Six hundred varieties!!! He directs everyone in the intricate dance that is sustainable farming of a size that involves more than just family members, even though this is a multi-generational family.
The book is filled with interesting stories about family and animals, varieties of produce with names that make my mouth water just reading them, photos, humor, poignancy…a bit of everything. But mostly, this is a story about love: among family members, between the family and their workers and customers, but most of all, between this family and the earth. It’s a story that you should read.