I love farms. I love driving by a farm in the summer, windows open and the fresh breeze and farm smells circulating around me. I even like the smell of manure–not the “treated with chemicals” kind, but the real, somewhat soft fragrance that lets you know you are passing a farm if your eyes are closed. Maybe my love for them comes from the area I grew up in, or perhaps for some longing to be part of the idyllic farm life (it sounds funny because if you look at me you wouldn’t really guess that!). I grew up next to a farm, but one that was no longer a working farm. Nevertheless, the barn and meadows surrounding my house captivated me and I would often dream of the cows that once grazed there. A short distance from my house, either by road or through the woods, is another farm (the one pictured above). As a young girl, my mom and I would often go to watch the sunset from the top of the farm’s field. We would sometimes see the cows outside, chewing their cud as the last rays of day descended. I remember walking through two of the old barns, no longer in use; all the stalls where the cows used to be milked were only concrete and wood now, but some of that earthy, rich smell still remained. It was haunting to be standing in some place that had been so alive with activity, and that was now so quiet and desolate. Part of the land had been sold to developers years ago, but part still remains a working farm (you can buy fresh eggs and vegetables there too!).
The history behind farms and farming has always interested me. My grandma grew up on a farm and has shown me many pictures and told many stories about her adventures there. There is such a sense of tradition and culture when you visit a farm. It is part of our American history, our culture, and it was a way of life for much of early America. The best farms, in my own opinion, are those that are cultivated and used in responsible ways, paying close attention to the land itself and sustainable practice. It is nice to eat something, knowing where it came from and how it was produced. The Farmers Market here in Litchfield has a wide, delicious variety of farm-fresh foods, some vendors who produce organically too!
In my senior year of college, my coordinating seminar class was on Sprawl. I had no idea what sprawl really was going into the class, but through our readings and class discussions I found it was a term that I was already familiar with; sprawl deals with the development of land and land use or misuse. For my senior project, I decided to focus on the misuse of land, specifically farms that were being sold and developed. I photographed many farms and developed farmland across the northwest corner and wrote poetry/prose to go along with it. My time spent doing this gave me a deeper understanding of how precious our open lands are and how quickly they are disappearing.
If you want to learn more about farms and their plight, here are some books that OWL has:
The Vanishing Land– The first chapter of Robert West Howard’s book will have you hooked. Although it was written in 1985, Howard was already bringing up some of the problems that are becoming more prevalent today: synthetically processed foods ladened with chemicals, GMO’s (genetically modified foods) and the dwindling farms that are being overshadowed by the billion dollar food corporations. Here is a great section from Howards book, in which he is talking about the wonders of the supermarket: “the plastic-swathed mounds of bacon by Smithfield, cold cuts by Oscar Mayer, buttered peas by Green Giant…” the list goes on and then he writes: “The greatest food show on earth! Can anything be missing? The land is missing! The agriculture is missing! Those few inches of all-important topsoil are missing! The sunlight, water, fertilizer, and the ariculturists who produced all this are missing!” Enough said (630.973 HOW).
Dirt Under My Nails: An American Farmer and Her Changing Land by Marilee Foster-The tale of a young woman who graduated from a liberal arts college and decided to plant and harvest the fields of her family’s farm. Interestingly, the farm lies in “The Hamptons,” the popular resort location on Long Island. Instead of selling out and reaping in the millions, her love of the land and farming itself finds her reaping in the crops instead. Very poetically written (630.97 FOS).
Nature’s Second Chance: Restoring the Ecology of Stone Prairie Farm by Steven I. Apfelbaum. A new edition to OWL’s collection! This is the story of how Steven Apfelbaum and his family restored their eighty-acre farm in Wisconsin to a “biologically diverse ecosystem of prairie, wetland, spring brook and forest.” The land had been depleted and over-used after years of corn farming, and is now beautifully restored and teeming with native wildflowers and wildlife. A book that will lift your spirits and maybe even inspire you! (639.909 APF).
Without a Farmhouse Near by Deborah Rawson. Rawson discusses the changing land in Vermont and specifically about a dairy farming family who is affected by the change in land use. She faces issues such as: “the implications of farmland turning into real-estate, the problem of food in the grocery store priced in such a way that all the middlemen who pass it along can make a healthy living from it but not the man who produced it.” (917.43 RAW).
The Gift of Good Land: Essays Cultural and Agricultural by Wendell Berry. A variety of essays with a central theme of the interconnectedness of all creatures and elements of Earth (333 BER)
A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley. I’ll admit I haven’t had a chance to read this one yet, but it’s on top of my list as soon as I finish my others. The story is about a father who gives his 1,000 acre Iowa farm to his three daughters. “Smiley powerfully evokes the unrelenting, insular world of farm life, the symbiotic relationships between a farmer and his land as well as those among the other members of the rural community.” (FIC SMI)
I hope you’ll enjoy these readings, and others about or relating to farms from OWL’s collection, and I also hope you have the opportunity to visit a farm this summer-walk around, breath it’s life, and maybe take home some of the fresh goodies produced there!
Sarai is the Publicity Coordinator/Library assistant and is looking forward to picking organic strawberries from the picturesque farm near Copak New York! “Strawberry fields forever…”