A Dispatch from the Divide (Part 1 of 3)

Okay, let’s get political. For weeks, I have steered my attention futilely towards what I believe will be a very entertaining blog post inspired by my recent rediscovery of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. During the week, I structure these posts in my head while moving fences, feeding animals, and constructing and refurbishing animal housing. Working with my hands allows my mind to wander, to turn over ideas and examine them from all angles, to reflect on things I’ve read, or just to notice something special in the woods that might serve as a MacGuffin for some week’s writing. Nick Offerman’s very entertaining reading of Twain’s classic is perfect for this purpose.

However, sitting down to write these past few Fridays, that post won’t be written. So, if for no other reason than to free up my brain, I am going to write what has really been on my mind: the recent transition of power to President Trump and the social, political, and emotional turmoil that has followed. As I write, I am conscious that I have little, if anything, to gain by publishing such an essay. First, mixing business and politics is potentially detrimental to my farm business. Second, and more importantly, I barely have a coherent set of thoughts, let alone any wisdom on the matter. Moreover, the relevant stories set on my farm, cannot be told without incriminating neighbors, none of whom has consented to their telling.

Wendell Berry could write this kind of essay. With eloquence, tact, and precision he would identify the root of our current cultural divide, giving credence to the very human needs underlying all of our political motivations and ambitions. He could tell us the truth and hold the powerful accountable, while still demonstrating the ways in which we continue to share a common set of goals and ideals.

Joel Salatin also might be able to write this essay, his unflinching Christian conservatism, his unyielding environmentalism, and his goofy libertarianism bringing all sides to attention. Plus, he would make us laugh.

Me, though, I lack both the literary and emotional capacity to speak commandingly on this subject. But, I am going to try anyway. There are at least two reasons for this. First, I have come to the conclusion that farming is inherently political. Ignore the diverse historical examples of this (the Grange, the Zapatistas, the back to the land movement, Navdanya). Ignore the consequences that immigration policy, the farm bill, and international trade policy will have on farmers large and small. Farming is political for me. I suspect there is a pervasive caricature in many quarters of the farmer as simple: the farmer that is concerned only with the seasons, the amount of daylight, rainfall, and the work of the body. This farmer is somehow apart from the rest of the world. Kristin Kimball describes her husband Mark in these terms in The Dirty Life. Mark doesn’t read or watch the news. He is somehow above it because he has unlocked some secret to happiness through farming. Tolkien seems to have much the same thing in mind, at least in the beginning of The Lord of the Rings, when he describes the Shire, “Hobbits have been living and farming in the four farthings of the Shire for many hundreds of years. Quite content to ignore and be ignored by the world of the Big Folk.” This ideal probably underlies most farmers to one degree or another, and I know more than one farmer who would self-describe exclusively in this manner.

For as many country folk that value country life for its seclusion from problems of cities and of the greater world, there are folks like me that came to farming not to escape the world, but to respond to it. That is, for many of us, farming is a political act. I did not choose sustainable farming because it is glamorous or lucrative or simple. I put in the sweaty, often backbreaking work because I hope that I am, in a small way, contributing to something vital. I want to do my small part to create a system where we can produce food sustainably, in a way the sequesters carbon, rebuilds soil, treats animals and workers with dignity, that brings people together, and rebuilds communities. Others might be motivated by our many public health crises, libertarian self-reliance and good honest work, or through a religious vocation. I heard Joel Salatin say once that “farms are merely reflections of the farmer.” If he is correct, for better or for worse, my politics are an inherent part of my farm.


I want to thank Emily Holmes for editing this post and for helping me to organize my thoughts on this subject in a fair, honest manner.

3 replies on “A Dispatch from the Divide (Part 1 of 3)”

I enjoyed this Chris; enjoyed being a vouyer on your internal processing. What you do as a farmer, Shepherd, herdsman is important; apart from anything else.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.