Small Space. Big Life.

Life near the farm

The other day my mom e-mailed me this link:

It’s a New York Times article about the foodie farmer revolution in Oregon, where lots of young, hip people who you  might expect to see in an urban setting are instead growing produce and raising chickens in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, where I grew up and went to college. It’s incredibly cool to see people my age and younger farming and using sustainable techniques; it gives us hope for what I think is The Most Important Profession. I mean, there aren’t that many alternative food sources out there. Someone’s gotta grow it, and why not have it be someone young and energetic and willing to try new things?

Of course, it’s not all romance and indie rock and tattoos. Farming is hard work and not particularly financially rewarding (How do I know? Besides growing up in farm country in Oregon, I picked blueberries for the farmers across the road for a couple of summers — that’s rated “easy” along the spectrum of possible farm work, but still left me sore for the first couple of weeks and didn’t leave me flush with cash).  Some of these young farmers will burn out, or run out of cash or credit, or decide that farming really isn’t their thing. But some won’t, and they’ll be the ones feeding me and my family in 15 or 20 years. I’m grateful for them.

The article mentions the resurgence in local foods and local farming, as opposed to the industrial farming model that’s taken over huge tracts of the country’s farmland. This is the same thing that Michael Pollan writes about in his books the Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food. I’m reading In Defense of Food right now and one of Pollan’s assertions is that local food has been, for quite some time, difficult if not impossible to access in the United States due to the industrialization of our agriculture. Much as I value Pollan’s work and his research, this statement felt somehow untrue to me, and the Times article helped me pin down why I felt this way: I’m 36, and I cannot remember a time when local foods raised by local farmers were not a part of my daily diet.

The house I grew up in was within a quarter-mile of two farms; one sold vegetables and apples (and had a working cider press for apple season) and the other sold cane and bush berries, stone fruits and walnuts. A couple of miles away was a truck farm / farm stand where my mom still buys her canning tomatoes, green beans, corn and pickling cucumbers. We had a vibrant if small Farmer’s Market on Saturdays. When I graduated high school and went abroad, my host family bought vegetables and cheese from our local farmers every week. College, my young adulthood, my married life: All have been conducted in towns with local farmers, local food co-ops and active farmer’s markets.

Maybe this a quirk of circumstance. Maybe this is because I love food and can’t really imagine living somewhere without a great farmer’s market (taking me on a date to the farmer’s market here — decadently lush even in February — is one way my husband convinced me to move here from my beloved Oregon). But maybe it’s because local food has been with us, even when we’ve been told it hasn’t.

I’m glad for the article in the Times, delighted at the business it will hopefully bring the young farmers in Oregon. I am thrilled that local foods are getting their due, and that people are supporting their local growers. And I’m looking forward to raising my kids the way I was raised — a skip away from a farm that grows their dinner, so much a part of their life that they never know how lucky they are.


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