Friday, May 25, 2012

Nonfiction | Oh, to Be a Farmer


My 16-year-old self would be so disappointed with my 26-year-old self.

When I was 16, I was aching to move to the big city. I dreamed of living “anywhere but here” (here being Tennessee) and my personal mission was to end up in New York because I just swore I was a city girl at heart.

Well, I did that. I am in New York now and have been for the past eight years. And what have I learned in those eight years? That maaaaybe I’m not as much of a city girl as my 16-year-old self would’ve thought. I still remember one of my first visits here as a high schooler, and I was astounded at how people’s intimate lives are forced together—that I could see into another person’s home through a window across the way; that I could hear their personal conversations without intentionally eavesdropping. I craved that kind of city living, being in the middle of it all, always encountering someone new.

And now, the thing I crave is quiet. And nature. And privacy. And not having to deal with strangers first thing in the morning. And sitting outside knowing that I am totally alone and no one can see me.

Ah, well. You can’t win them all, can you? It’s because of this recent affinity for rural settings that my interest was piqued by Jenna Woginrich’s memoir Barnheart: The Incurable Longing for a Farm of One’s Own back in March when I saw it on display at the PLA conference. And thanks to the lovely booth rep, I walked away with my very own copy.

Jenna had a similar craving to mine. As a twenty-something, she packed up and followed a new job to rural Vermont, determined to fulfill her dream of running a productive farm. This book is one of those blog-to-memoir examples, and Jenna has established an internet presence over the past few years at her blog Cold Antler Farm. Barnheart is told somewhat chronologically, but her chapters are structured more as vignettes, detailing a certain experience—like buying her first goat, attempting to become a shepherd, or making friends with the somewhat exclusive locals.

I did have some issues with Jenna’s attitude at certain times. She can come off as awfully judgmental of lifestyles other than her own. She expresses her disgust at city folk owning vacation homes in the country where the land “isn’t put to use;” she makes snide remarks about people who are uninformed about the food industry and who don’t buy local / buy organic / support or adopt a sustainable lifestyle. It somewhat blemished a narrative that otherwise seemed like it wanted to be so positive and encouraging, sharing stories about the transition to farm life. I hope that, in real life, Jenna would support others following a similar path with enthusiasm and not judge everyone else who isn’t.

I did enjoy hearing her story, though, and was inspired afterwards to read her blog. Being someone that lives a completely opposite lifestyle, Barnheart had the effect of taking me away to a life that part of me craves. As I sit in front of a computer all day every day, I can’t help but desire an active outdoor lifestyle that is so different from the one I am currently living. I can’t help it—I think I really am a country girl at heart (…or maybe more of a mix, but definitely not at 24/7 city girl).


Aarti said…

I think this author would annoy me.  I hate the food snobbery that exists these days, particularly as people seem to ignore the fact that a lot of local/organic food is not an option for people who don't make a lot of money and are trying to feed their families.  It's a very holier-than-thou attitude that ignores the reality of things.

That said, I *do* sympathize more about the massive homes that are built for people that spend no time in them and take up very arable farmland.  I wish that the US had a culture of kitchen gardens like other countries do.  Just growing some herbs and a few of your own vegetables would be such a good way to use a small plot of land, and we just don't have that here. 

Heather Fargis said…

Oh man. I started your review thinking "Oh this sounds like a perfect book for me!" But like Aarti, I think she'd probably get on my nerves. I don't like "holier than thou" attitudes. I agree with everything Aarti said, she beat me to saying it!

Heather said…

Oh man. I started your review thinking "Oh this sounds like a perfect book for me!" But like Aarti, I think she'd probably get on my nerves. I don't like "holier than thou" attitudes. I agree with everything Aarti said, she beat me to saying it!

softdrink said…

And I agree with Aarti and Heather, too! Eating locally takes time and money and depending where you live, a heck of a lot of effort. While I totally support the idea, it doesn't always play well with people's lives. And  it would make me pissy to read about someone judging others for that.

Still…I do love to daydream about living in the country.

Kari said…

At one point in the book, the author tries to backtrack and say something to the effect of, "Oh, well, everyone has their own dreams," but that struck me as something you'd say if you accidentally insulted someone during a conversation. But this isn't a real-time conversation; this is a book you're writing and can edit to avoid those foot-in-mouth statements! So in this case, her "acceptance" of various lifestyles didn't sound too genuine!

Kari said…

There's not toooo terribly much of the attitude, but maybe you should check out her blog if you like the topic. I haven't sensed much attitude there—just lots of pictures and snippets of farm life. Enjoyable!

Kari said…

As I just responded to Heather above, try checking out her blog!

And YES to the eating locally requiring money! I swing through through a farmer's market near work every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and when I see a dozen eggs for $6, I just laugh hysterically on my way to Trader Joe's. I mean, SIX DOLLARS. Come on.