Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Put Your Big Girl Panties On and Get Out There and Farm

I am always fascinated with writing that feels like a sentinel piece. This weekend, I finished reading Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity From a Consumer Culture by Shannon Hayes. I first discovered Shannon about 4 years ago when I was just getting started with our family cow and when I would work nights at the hospital, and things were slow, I would peruse a discussion board about keeping a family cow. There I read a recommendation of her first cookbook about grassfed meat, and I bought it. It had been a nice addition to my cookbook shelf. Recently, Amazon alerted me "if I liked that I might also like this..." and it was her newest piece-- but definitely not a cook book! Amazon graciously allowed me read just enough to get hooked and luckily a friend lent me a copy.

Shannon is a beef farmer and radical homemaker in New York State. Her basic thesis is that homes were originally units of production and have become units of consumption. This shift, ushered in with the industrial revolution, has been so dramatic that as a society, we have suffered ill health as a result. She proposes that we need to re-examine the role of the homemaker (in true feminist theory, whether it be male or female or shared equitably) and support a reversion to being units of production in order to heal ourselves and raise our children. Her delivery is eloquent, her argument is compelling.

I may be stepping out on a limb, but I do believe this to be a sentinel piece of literature in our changing times. In the same way that Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver have changed the scope of interest in eating local and growing and raising your own food and Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser unveiled the world inside our factory farmed meat, Shannon Hayes is doing that for the home.
Deep within the trenches of a recession, whose end, I believe, is not going to look anything like our world prior to 2008, we are ripe for a new cultural shift. As college graduates struggle to find jobs and then to find meaning in those jobs, our internship applications soar. As more people read books by Michael Pollan, my inbox is full with folks asking questions about how to eat locally. Shannon Hayes' Radical Homemaker is poised to usher in this shift.

An article written in March in the New York Times titled The Femivore's Dilemma has caused a ripple effect through the internet. Peggy Orenstein cites Haye's book and offers up some amusing theories. It turn out that femivores are everywhere and they're writing about it here. And the skeptics are out there too, as with every feminist discussion, there's always someone who sits in a different camp, forgetting there are many right ways and really its about women and men having a choice. The website Grist joins the discussion by pointing out that women have never left the "kitchen" as they still take the lion's share of the responsibility for feeding the family, only now its not so likely to be local, organic ingredients prepared at home but more processed and convenient.

But, although I like all this feminist theory, what I really like is radical homemaking. I like household units that aspire to consume less and produce more. I like the potential for more self-sufficiency as we learn not to live with less but to re-define what more is. More local, more organic, more home-grown, more stew chickens, more casseroles, more family cows, more butchering parties, more normalcy in the act of producing as a household such that neighbors are eager and willing to join hands and see a project to completion because we aren't afraid to spend time together as a community. Not more factory farmed meat, cheap commodities markets and over-consumption of inexpensive imported goods.

Oh and what happened to the nice colorful photos of the farm and its produce? Well, the other thing I want to share about is the Women's Land Army. The Women's Land Army emerged during the First and Second World Wars to replace male agricultural workers who had been called up for military duty. In 2009, at a reunion of British Land Army workers, women claimed they loved their time farming and the opportunity to pursue this option. I love this idea and I am drawn to the imagery of the photos and the posters from this time. Sometimes, when its just me and the crew in the field, all the women (sorry Aaron and John), I like to imagine we are our own Land Army.....but really we are a bunch of radical homemaking femivores out weeding a field with too much time to think and a choice about how to spend our time.

This week, we are hosting a film crew from the CBS Sunday Morning Show. As always, we feel both honored by and ambivalent about media engagements due to the potential to look stupid or have a comment taken out of context. Articles or short movies have no real direct effect on our business. We can't raise our prices for vegetables and say its because we were featured in the Times. But, indirectly, we believe we are helping a movement prosper and grow when we share a piece of our story. Above all, we want people to see it is possible to live well, with less, perhaps below the poverty level, producing food, raising children (and sometimes taking a vacation). Could a little clip on the Sunday Morning Show encourage anyone out there to emulate this lifestyle????
We'll let you know when its on so you can laugh and cringe a little along with us.

If you want for less, you'll always have more.

Read Shannon Hayes' book. Tell me what you think. Embrace your inner radical know she (or he) is in you somewhere...

oh yeah.....this week's share includes:
Hakurei Salad Turnips
Purplette onions
Summer Squash and Patty Pan Squash

Blessings on the meal,
P.S. Sorry the post is late this week-- its not that I was lost in my book, its just that we lost our Internet connection for several days!


  1. Stacy,

    Thanks for this. In 1997, when my daughter was born and we bought our house here in Maine, my husband and I decided that one of us should be home to "raise the kids." At the time, my staying home and his working seemed to be the best option. Being a college grad and believing in my inherent right to have a good job, a career and a "life", it was an incredibly difficult transition for me.

    Thankfully, however, over the years since, especially recently, I've really come to appreciate the value of my service to my family and my community as a full-time stay-at-home mom.

    This piece just reinforces how important my 'job' is, and I'm thankful (daily) that I was given the opportunity to pursue it ;).

    Thank you for the great reminder ;).

  2. I just started reading this book last week. Though, with fall coming there hasn't been much reading time between all the canning! So far I like it.

  3. Awesome post! Hooray for women claiming their joyful work - in the dirt and in the kitchen.

  4. Thanks guys for the whole hearted words of support and encouragement!

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  6. I'm right there with Wendy.

    In my case, I'm a university educated stay at home mom and military wife. I haven't had a 'real' job in over 5 years, ever since shacking up with my husband. We had babies pretty fast and there was no question that I would be staying home to raise them.

    Moving almost every year (usually in July) has made urban farming a tad bit tricky. But I still manage to time veggies to coincide with our move dates.

    This year, however, we have moved home and, through some great miracle, stumbled into our 'Forever Home' Not the plan, but the plan.

    So, although we will most likely move again, I have the liberty to create my long dreamed of Suburban plant fruit trees and perenials, and switch out landscaping shrubs for berry bushes.

    I have yet to read Radical Homemaking, radically homemaking myself, but I so look forward to the first day of rain

  7. I read Radical Homemakers a couple of months ago . . . and I still find myself thinking about it. An overall inspiring read. I'll probably read it again when I have the time.

  8. timely blog spot-- I recently read Radical Homemakers, and am writing on a longer piece (some notes here:

    about the drive to create (in this case, from the land) that is emergent as a more mainstream "trend", but also how it has taken root/ been expressed in San Francisco (where I am)-- specifically, urban homesteading, canning, the rise in popularity in our "cheap" (vs the disney version Alice Waters created) farmer's market, etc.
    Anyway, long story short, I really recommend Shopclass as Soulcraft. Ultimately his politics were a more conservative than I cared for, but it was a great, important read. Highly recommend it if you liked Radical Homemakers.

  9. oh I really want to get my hands on that book! Have tried the library and ordering service but I don't think the South West of England library service has quite caught on yet!
    Can't afford to purchase at the present time as rich in many ways but money!
    We have no outside space at all as we have had to compromise garden for managing to own our own house, just! Our house needs a lot of work and will take years for us to renovate but it is ours. Unfortunately there is a tiny courtyard outside despite being in a very rural village. Friends of ours have an amazing sustainable farm project in its early stages, that will incorporated a 'share harvest' which we are involved with. Despite having no outside space we will still be able to grow our own produce, be involved in the running of a farm, and share learning and support from others.
    We also have the LAndshare project here which hooks up growers with landowners to make use of unused land. There have been fantastic stories from this project like church yards planted with fruit bushes, and council owned public parks having areas of veggie patches, very 'Dig For Victory'.

    I think we all have the need to create, to provide and to grow things for ourselves, and personal space shouldn't and needn't be an issue, unless we allow it to be!

    Thank you for your reminder.

  10. I just found your blog and am utterly delight. I actually squealed when I came to the end of this post. First on my list for tomorrow is tracking down that book. Thanks so much for posting it! I'm on the verge of starting a goat dairy and could use a boost.

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