When it began to dawn on me just how important it is the way our food is grown, how it is nourished and cared for, I was deep in the backcountry of central Utah learning how to transform a sheep into food. I began to understand then, the nonnegotiable baseline, the low-hanging fruit, the first step to take and the one that matters most. I would have to participate. This mild and yet utterly life-altering epiphany occurred in the summer of 2014—early July, as it happens—and I’m here at Horton Road Organics in no small part because of the need to participate. I’m coming to grips with how, to paraphrase the ever-reliable Wendell Berry, we don’t all need to be agrarians, but so long as we eat food, we need to have agrarian values. It’s really invigorating and inspiring to sell food at the market in Eugene, or to meet some of the folks picking up their CSA boxes, and to know that each of these people who takes home food from the farm is supporting capital-H Health.
I’m big on the “understanding” of things—basically, I read a lot (my nickname amongst apprentices is Hermione). I value highly a broad perspective, a holistic perspective. On the off chance that there’s someone reading this who’s interested in broadening their own perspective and understanding of what it means to eat food in the United States today, I have a couple books to recommend!
Farming for the Long Haul, by Michael Foley – A thorough, engrossing read. Not too long, either! If anyone likes Wendell Berry or has read The Unsettling of America, this is right up your alley. You’ll be introduced to the history of agriculture, land-use, property laws, traditional (indigenous) farming, and the movement(s) taking place today to reshape a system of agriculture which does not have Health in mind. This is one of the top books I’ve read, period. It’s not all light reading, but it’s tremendously inspiring.
The Farm Bill: A Citizen’s Guide, by Daniel Imhoff. Heard of the Farm Bill (the bill itself, not this wonderful book)? It’s basically our nation’s standard-operating-procedure when it comes to food. It’s one of the US of A’s answers to the question, “What do you care about?” And two things about the bill itself are apparent: that it is difficult to understand (or want to), and that it skews our nation’s efforts around food in a direction that leads decidedly away from healthy food—and so, away from healthy people. This book has gone a tremendous way in helping me understand food in our country, and the many approachable ways I can act as an eater, not just as a grower.
Okay, so I said a couple, but I really meant a few!
Kiss the Ground, by Josh Tickell. This book is all about soil, through the lens of what could be called a “regenerative agriculture diet.” It’s very approachable, a fun and motivating read, and approaches the issues of regenerative vs conventional agriculture and land-use from the perspective of each of us as citizens-who-eat! While the vast majority of today’s “diets” center around the human body “in limbo”, somehow isolated by itself, this book highlights the importance and the impact of eating “for the health of the soil.” Really fun read!
These days, the pundits are no longer just on the street corners. I know it’s hard to spend ten minutes on social media or the internet at large without reading a tenacious and overbearing demand from someone that we Should Pay Attention to This—This is the Most Important Thing! I hope that, for you, this is not one of those moments. I hope that, if you were already thoughtful about food and health and community and truly tasty meals, you consider these books as offerings to stoke your curiosity further.