• Writing the Farm


    People often think that I uprooted my lawn to grow most of my food in my yard so that I could write a book about the experience – but the farm came about before the idea for the book. Even before the farm came spine-stiffening arguments centering on either turning our yard into a farm, or leaving it the lawn-swathed, rose-studded garden it had been since we moved there years before.

    Mostly between my husband and I, these arguments resembled the kind of set-tos one would hear in an elementary school playground: “You can’t grow your own food.” “Can too.” “Can not, you’ll starve.” Will not.” “Will too, and I’m not starving with you.” “I’ll do it on my own, so there.”

    It was like a little war, for we next sought to rally troops for our own sides, pulling friends in to provide backup. My husband found himself woefully out-opinioned. Most people thought growing my own food in my little yard was a fine gambit, just like your best pals might encourage you to jump off the garage roof into the snowbank. It would be fun!

    It was fun, mostly. Well, half of the time. Early on, starvation did seem to sit on the driveway and glower at me. I did eat a lot of zucchini that first month out and lost ten pounds. And being at war with my husband, albeit a relatively benign and fully bloodless war, was not so great.

    It was this war, however, that made the idea of a farm become the farm, which eventually became the book. It gave me a stubborn fortitude to carry out my threats of farming, then gave me a narrative structure by which to describe the process. It made the outcome of the year carry more importance than the mere possibility of having to go to the grocery store and buy my tomatoes rather than eating home-grown ones (no one really expected that I would starve to death with a SaveMart just down the street).

    The war gave the book a backbone, genuine narrative tension. The tension did not come from which of us was going to be right; either the farm was going to provide 75% of my diet or it wasn’t, and the world, even our personal sphere, wouldn’t stop turning either way. The tension came from the question of what was going to happen when one of us was right – how would my husband and I negotiate peace with the outcome?

    Fleshing out the story on such a backbone was then relatively easy; an exercise in weaving garden success stories, failures, and how-to, with family lore, natural history, and even recipes. More than easy, it was a pleasure. For such weaving is the stuff of conversations…at least the stuff of my conversations – jumping from a story of the South Dakotan popsicle hen to the natural history of jungle fowl, to the fact that my chicken Kalliopi sings, to a recipe for the perfect kid meal of eggs-n-potatoes – is actually confabulatory par.

    Luckily, this baroque conversational style (with a bit of the tell-all in it) is a style my husband appreciates, which may be part of the reason our war ended peaceably. As I often say at readings, “While Louis wasn’t a very good sport about the Quarter Acre Farm, he’s been a very good sport about me telling people he wasn’t a very good sport about the Quarter Acre Farm.”

    We’re all used to having a farm instead of a yard now. April means snap peas, broccoli, and golden beets rather than green lawns, and the time other people spend mowing in August, we put to picking tomatoes and pruning back cucumber leaves. We don’t have rainbirds shooting water arcs across our property, but drip systems in vegetable beds. The garden gets better and more prolific every year. My only regret? I wish I’d made a wager on the Quarter Acre’s success. Insisted on post-war reparations. What would I have asked for? Weeding, of course.

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