Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The mad farmer's garden

Ollie and I arrived on the doorstep of The Mad Farmer's Garden in Coal Valley, IL in the midst of a torrential rainstorm last Thursday. (Have I mentioned the less-than-perfect weather yet? Oh. Yes. I believe I have. It was like the famous storm in King Lear, but maybe with less people losing their minds. Actually....) From what I know of the Wendell Berry collection of poems from whence the organic farm takes its name -- a sequence of diatribes and manifestos that critique society's destruction of land and community -- the weather was somehow fitting. The farm's very existence rails against modern, conventional practices. The property is owned by Ian's great uncle and run by Ian with the help of a small, tight-knit group of friends, with practices that stubbornly recall a simpler, less industrialized time. The goats are milked by hand twice daily. Seeds are saved. Food is grown without fertilizers or pesticides or hormones. They grow things not only to sell but to support themselves. They compost. This, while being surrounded on all sides by giant, GM operations and manure spreaders.

One of the things I have been doing as I roam about the country learning about food is, in a sense, peeking into different variations on sustainable lifestyles, trying them on, seeing which elements fit. Trying on places and ideas and communities. Kind of like shoes. What feels right? What's missing? Is this uncomfortable? Will I get blisters? (Another metaphor, yes. I'm talking work shoes here, but I suppose some of you are thinking about dancing shoes. Those shouldn't give you blisters, either.)

I had heard about the Coal Valley homestead farm from my friend, Hannah, who had, along with her (and now also my) friend Lindsey, built a raft and traveled down the Mississippi River to learn about sustainable farming in 2008. Talk about spunky: these were my kind of people!

Hannah, Lindsey, Ian, and Andrew welcomed me into their midst from the start. They invited me to join in with the farm chores, the market, the cooking (yes!), and frankly answered whatever questions I ventured -- from how each came to the farm to how to use the indoor composting latrine. The two couples share a vision of self-sufficiency, communal living, and innovation that informs their daily lives. It's not perfect yet, with personalities still at odds sometimes and different ideas on how and when to do things, but they're making it: they produce the majority of food for themselves, generate very little waste, are revitalizing the land, and are developing a loyal customer base through the Davenport farmers' market (less so with shops so far). Each season, there are new projects, experiments, and techniques that the young farmers undertake -- companion planting, seed saving, greenhouse construction, trying out new heirloom varieties -- based on the interests and needs of the group. These are undertaken with a spirit of joy and curiosity and, finally, the desire to make things a little bit better. Who could ask for more? Wendell would be proud.

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

1 comment:

  1. Hey Ibti, I'm so glad that you were able to connect with Hannah Harris...since I love not only her but her Ma and Pa and bro so much. I painted my bedroom in Logan a color similar to Hannah's room in Nyack. Man, I love that family. Nice post about the Mad Farmer's Garden. Hannah's mom Beth had sent me photos from earlier in the summer so it was fun to read about your time in Coal Valley...they should call it Cool Valley! XOXXO Aunt Adie


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