I’m listening to The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, mostly as I walk around Cambridge and Boston, and when I’m weeding in the garden. (The latter being what I’ve taken to doing every morning.)
I’ve made it through the maize, past McDonalds, and into the beef industry. Having grown up on an Iowa beef (and corn and soy) farm, I have personal experience with Pollan’s topics. It seems that the farmers he interviews and what he chooses to include in the book does not always reflect my family’s farm, but that is to be expected. It does ring true though, from what I know. The problem is, I don’t actually know that much about how my father farms.
My reaction as I’m listening has mostly been mute awe at the industrialization and commodification of food – and all the ills and boons that come with it.
The last time I was home to visit my family, I got up the courage to ask my dad why he didn’t farm something other than corn and soy. He said there was no other crop (or crops) that would allow him to be as successful, as a one-man operation.
I took this to heart – letting go of the fantasy of starting an organic vegetable farm with my brother, which would service the local population (a mere 30 miles away).
This morning, as I was listening to the audiobook and pulling crab grass, I learned about farmers who have eschewed industrial farming AND organic farming, electing instead to find a sustainable balance instead (neither industrial or mass-farming organically are doing this). Pollan describes a farm in Virginia that rotates cattle, chickens, and various other animals over grassland, in such a way that benefits each animal species as well as the grass (and dirt).
Granted, I get excited about things easily (look! a sign that reads ‘puppy sale’!), but I really feel that there is some answer for how to use the land my family already has, once the only farmer working it is retired. Sure, we could rent it to someone else — we could even sell it. I prefer to scheme ways to keep it going with Greens (my dad is the fifth generation).
Now I just have to stop loving living in Boston, and convince Jason to move to Iowa. Though he doesn’t like to talk about it, I think my dad would like to retire eventually, and I think taking over a farm and successfully keeping it running isn’t outside the realm of possibility. It makes my heart ache to think about it.
These photos were taken during the floods in June. The first is the field across from the house, and the second is my father, during one of the last days of rising water.