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Ballyhoo Fiber Emporium Podcast

 

 

First Fourth-Generation Farmer

Madeline Rosenberg

I finished the foundations of our no-till garden yesterday, moving over 20 yards of organic matter by hand. Yes, I'm sore. Yes, I have blisters. No, it's not the first time I've undertaken such a project, and it's still exhilarating. As I gagged in a miasma very similar to rumen content, I thought how fortunate I am not only to be able to farm, but that I was not raised as a farm kid. Strange, right? The thing is, people are constantly commending me on my encyclopaedic brain. I credit my parents - well, not entirely, but like 80%. They kept an extensive library - my mother sacrificed to buy a set of actual encyclopaedias that included the ChildCraft set (art, history, and animals were my favorites) - read to me, read WITH me, and never withheld books. We took walks as a family, we went to zoos and aquariums and wild places, and although my mother (who is allergic to the world) strongly preferred that my love of nature stay outdoors, she encouraged both intellectual and practical knowledge of the natural world. My father had been raised on a farm and plans to return to small-scale farming in retirement. I learned gardening from him, but because I grew up in the suburbs I was not brought up in the rut of generational farm families, that is, "this is the way we've always done it". I was a theoretical farmer until adulthood, and I'm so grateful. Devouring farming techniques from books, the internet, observation, and listening to others gave me a broad foundation of options, and because I was raised in the age of sustainability and slow work, healthy principles are easy for me. I didn't inherit overextended and exhausted land. I have the fortune of creating as I go, of working with the earth.

As I moved "future dirt" yesterday, I marveled that the things which are detrimental to our animals are critical for the health of our soil, namely nematodes, decay, fungus, and rot. And while all surgery is considered risky, few think twice about rending the earth year after year. The earth is as much a closed biological system as an animal body. If you open it, you expose it to erosion, an imbalance of microorganisms, oxidization, an excess of the wrong things and a dearth of health. You create dependence in the soil; it cannot support the flora we expect without artificial sustenance. No-till makes sense. I have not disturbed any top soil in my planting sites. I haven't even pulled dead plants. I have simply added layer after layer of organic matter: dead leaves, various manures, fermented grass, dead plants, compost. There are fungi, worms, all manner of bacteria already at work in this melange, which I will top with just enough soil and peat to plant my seeds. Year after year, without disturbing the soil body, I will replace what I remove.

This is not the way my father and his father farmed. I'm a first generation farmer of sustainability, from a long line of farmers, and I owe it all to being raised off the farm.