I just finished reading Kurt Timmermeister’s new book Growing a Farmer and I’m filled with inspiration, motivation, resolve and just plain admiration. I’m inspired to try to grow more edibles in my garden this year, I’m motivated to drastically improve the quality of the soil in my garden. I feel a new resolve to continue working on my garden for the next 20 years or so. Most of all I’m admiring Kurt’s refreshing lack of ego, sense of humor and his ability to share his enthusiasm without making the reader feel like a loser for not following his model. I haven’t felt so invigorated about the possibilities of living (a little anyhow) off of my little patch of land since I read Angelo Pellegrini’s Unprejudiced Palate.
But Growing a Farmer is not just about gardening and growing food crops. Kurt takes a common sense approach to a wide variety of topics including raw milk, cheesemaking, the food movement, raising, slaughtering and eating animals, decentralization of our food supply and the skills that are needed to support it, and even the aesthetics of farm life. To me Growing a Farmer is a story about the evolution of a chef and entrepreneur who had the work ethic and just the right timing to make his vision into a reality and a family.
I found it interesting that Kurt’s aesthetic sense has been a catalyst for many of the “greener” changes on the farm. For example, taking down the hoop greenhouses (made of pvc pipe and plastic sheets) was driven partly by giving up the race to produce tomatoes out of season but also because he thought they were ugly. Having a strong creative vision cannot be separated from one’s sense of aesthetics, and it struck me that his ethical choices sometimes seemed like a direct result of his aesthetic choices. Through his choices Kurt has managed to transform his acreage into a small, successful, complete ecosystem on his farm. There is a profound beauty in the idea of using every bit of what you grow, every part of the animals we eat and our own efforts to support each member of the small farm community.
Kurt is right on about decentralization, not just of the food supply and skills needed to maintain it. The skills that allow us to produce food and bring it to table must also be decentralized. Life skills and knowledge must be passed from mother to daughter, father to son, friend to friend, mentor to apprentice. We are each experts on something, why not spread it around? Relying on our families and local communities will make all of us stronger.
Also, if we can begin to reduce our demands for foods that are out of season or foods that we don’t need to eat every day (i.e. meat) we can be decentralized, self-reliant and well-fed. I enjoy eating meat, but I would rather eat a really good locally produced pork chop once a week that eat meat every day of the week. How about you?