Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Sissy Farmer

Joel Salatin calls himself a sissy farmer because he is interested in healing the earth and getting back to working in harmony with the natural order of things. He says he is in the redemption business. That he is also something of a rabble rouser as well as a prognosticator is evidenced by the two statements (below) that he made in an interview published on line on The Tennessee Farmers and Freeholders site in 2008.
  1. An old law says, “Nobody’s thrown a ball so high it didn’t come down.” I don’t think anybody believes that an economy can just grow and grow and grow forever.
  2. It’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission. I get so frustrated when I speak at a seminar and the first question is “But is it legal?” Who cares if it’s legal? If it’s right, do it.
My maternal grandmother, though not a farmer, knew something about working with the natural order of things. She raised nine children while her husband worked the railroad as a section crew foreman. After she was widowed she became mostly self sustaining. She put in a huge garden every spring, did all the hoeing and weeding and harvesting and put back, by canning, those vegetables that could not go into the root cellar for the winter. On the years she couldn't hire a man with a horse to break up the garden plot she did it herself, pushing her own smaller plow. She raised chickens, White Leghorns for eggs and for 'trading' for egg money on Saturday, for Sunday dinners and Bantum roosters because they amused her. She'd always made her own clothes, crocheted doilies and booties, embroidered pillowcases and used up the left-over supper gravy on the next morning's biscuits. But for all of that (and even with a small pension) she still needed additional income so she cooked lunch at school, worked in a nursing home, rented out rooms to subsist. She knew about subsisting and sustaining and living an optimistic, independent life.

Thinking about subsistence farming could lead us to crofting -in Scotland or Kentucky or Finland and then inevitably, when thinking of redemption and working in harmony with the natural order of things, when thinking of being self sustaining, to Wendell Berry (you may remember he will not buy a computer) and to his Mad Farmer poems. One of my favorite lines is from his poem The Man Born To Farming - " He enters into death yearly, and comes back rejoicing."

Sustainable agriculture won't make anyone rich -that isn't the goal. Sustaining and subsisting so often go hand in hand.

Still, "He enters into death yearly, and comes back rejoicing."


  1. Ah, yes, this is my good friend. Loved your grandmother. She was an amazing woman. You take after her in a lot of ways.

  2. Great post henhouse! I am finding myself more and more interested in sustainable farming or gardening if you will. I think that those who move in this direction will find that tough times aren't as hard on them as it will be on others because we will be hardened more gently over a longer period of time (as opposed to a sudden shock) and also because we will be less dependent on ...well, the government (I know that's so NOT PC).
    Thanks for adding my blog to your list! I really appreciate it.