Friday, July 30, 2010


Yesterday's post was a culmination of several years of frustrating encounters with all sorts of people who do not understand what it takes to create sustainability, to raise organic food, to put in the work it takes to be a part of a successful agricultural endeavor.

Yes, I listed examples specific to a particularly problematic blogger, but I felt there was more to be gained by keeping my comments anonymous so that they could be attributed to any number of people or places. One responder, Meagan, left a response that included a name and since it was not my intention to lead a crusade against any individual, I chose not to publish her comment.

But she wrote a thoughtful, lengthy comment and I wanted to share it and respond.

She writes, "I found her announcement of the documentary this morning to be, well, unrealistic. Anyone can make a movie nowadays after all. I also find it a little on the presumptuous side how she authors books on how to raise animals when she has caused them some amount of harm (I'm thinking of the more than one time I believe her huskies have decimated her chicks). That said, she does have a very good way with words, and I appreciate learning through other people's mistakes. She is always one to admit she makes mistakes. And despite not being a completely suitable role model, her writing increases awareness of local food and sustainability, which benefits us all."

No, her writing does not increase awareness of local food and sustainability. Local farmers and the local food movement want people to be aware of all the good food being produced locally by farmers who are dedicated to the idea of agriculture. Most of these men and women work long days, long hours, and do not make a lot of money. In fact, a majority must rely on a non-farm job to help make ends meet. So they need to have consumers be aware of the impact of their choices when they buy foreign produce, or support markets that have no local connection. These men and women are also stewards of the land they work, and by truly caring about what they do to the land as they produce this food, they work for everyone on planet Earth. Sustainability is an integral part of that process because we simply can't keep doing what we are doing and expect resources to always be there. She does not write about her local food community, she does not contribute to it. She does tell us about what she attempts, about how it failed, and then goes right out to the local market and buys what she needs because she can.

I read the blog of a woman in Iowa who runs a flower farm. And yes, she tells us a bit about her ups and downs. She tells us a lot about what is going on in her neck of the woods with the local food scene, the local markets, how she teaches others about this lifestyle, how she lives herself. And absolutely none of it is available to me directly (because the commute to Iowa is a bear), but she deals in a more important commodity - inspiration and information. SHE increases awareness of local food and sustainability...

Meagan then says, "I do not agree with parts of your criticism's tone. Have you never had an animal demise under your watch? Sure it's happened more than 0 times with her, as it has with me. Sometimes it's even due to our own faults. I can't speak for (her), but I take great pain when my animals die (so far only one has) and use the opportunity to re-evaluate myself and my priorities with the farm. I find your quip about fanatics to be a bit pushing it - you have fans of your blog too, do you think they're all fanatics? That said, I do agree that her fans are more on the "isn't this lifestyle so quaint and romantic" side of things versus the "hey I'm a farmer too and you could improve on this and that", but when you publish a book that is in city bookstores I expect such a thing will happen."

I have been told before that my tone is not always friendly. (My last boss used to tell people that I failed charm school.) I am brutally honest, and usually those people that consider themselves my friends understand that they will always know where I stand, and if my delivery is sometimes fierce, my loyalty is even more so. That being said, yes, I have had animals die. And each one causes me to re-evaluate. I consider each and every one MY fault. That makes the gravity of their deaths act as a constant drive for me to improve what I do.

My friends that share my blog space are not so fanatical that they lose perspective. They do not get caught up in the quaint and romantic side of things. In fact, nothing here is quaint or romantic. Really. (The best I can hope for is to try and make some of it funny...) I am not sure how publishing a book found in city bookstores generates the kind of gushing, "atta-girl" comments she often gets. I find it appalling that she actually HAS a book in city bookstores. Didn't the publisher practice any sort of "due diligence" and check out her qualifications and experience? I mean, I tried spelunking once, but that doesn't mean I'm submitting articles to Cavers Weekly...

Finally, Meagan writes, "As I've read her blog I hardly feel as if she portrays herself to be the center of the world. In fact I think she is quite obvious about her failures and I appreciate her for that. As I have said, I've failed too. When people like (her) and I come into farming, we don't necessarily have the luxury of an uncle who was a farmer or being around farms before. This is all absolutely new to me. And I try my best to educate myself and dedicate myself to my efforts, whether they are plant or animal. However I do know modesty, as much as I enjoy writing (as I'm sure you've noticed) and documenting things I know that I am not anywhere near an authority and I never portray myself as being so. Whether (she) does so or not is a point of contention. By publishing books and agreeing to be in a documentary one would presume, as I do, that she is portraying herself as some sort of authority. But she also portrays her failures, and I will not fault her for that even if it does make it easy for others to list off your failings for criticism. Just as I wouldn't fault you for being frank with your opinion.

In my opinion there should never be shame for trying something new or sharing knowledge."

Yeah, when you ask people for money, you are basically saying, "Give to me. I deserve it." That is EXACTLY portraying yourself as the center of the world. How about raising money to do for others???And since she does it in connection with projects she would like to try out on her little farm, she is also saying "Give to me. What I do is important, and I am an authority worthy of your support." What if the money she keeps asking for was to build a home for a homeless family instead of a barn - would she still sell the t-shirts and blog about her progress? What if the documentary was about the struggles of small farmers and their failures to make a living from what they do - would she gush with excitement about being featured?

Meagan, I thank you for taking the time to comment. I imagine that anyone that cares enough to respond so well is already an asset to the small farm movement. We've shared knowledge and opinions and like you said, there is no shame in that. I think you have tried very hard to be nice to the person you identify, but as you said yourself, she is unrealistic...and therein lies the rub. I'm not sure when reality will jump up and bite her in the ass, but I know reality is nibbling away constantly at my sizeable rump - (just wish it would help me get back in to my favorite jeans.)


Michelle said...

See? There's more proof we're twins; we're both FRANK. Love you!

Meagan said...

Hi Melanie, apologies for having used her name and making you frame the comment in a blog post, but I do appreciate you taking the time to respond.

You are correct in that she does not promote self sustainability etc. My intuition responded that she does but in reality looking back on her blog she promotes homesteading, which is not necessarily the same, and certainly isn't given she works a full time job on the side.

I think ultimately we agree on a lot of points, and perhaps I sympathize more with her because I too am a young new farmer. For us city folks getting into it, not having any knowledge given to us by our "farming families" and in many cases having absolutely no roots in our new farm's location, it can be really hard and we make more mistakes that even a kid in 4H club wouldn't be making. Sadly I didn't have 4H as an option growing up so I'm learning these skills now through trial and error and lots of learning.

I have the same thoughts when she announces books and movies: what publisher isn't doing their research? Then again publishing is focused around making money as most things in the world are. I can't blame them for going after the "self-sustainability" and "green" themes which are currently popular.

It's a bit tough being in essentially her exact shoes yet agreeing with your point that she takes on too much at once which with an inexperienced farmer eventually results in wrong things being done. But at least one good thing comes from her failures - I will never make the same mistakes as she does.

Mama Pea said...

I think a great "talent" of the person of whom we are speaking is that she is able to put a major spin on almost everything she says or does . . . and this is what enables her to fool so many people.

Jordan said...

Thanks for the thoughtful discussion. I've felt the same way but kept those feelings mostly to myself. Now you've opened the floodgates! In addition to the mistakes we've discussed, there are two other, really important things she's doing wrong.

In saying that her new barn is 'everybody''s barn, has she considered that people who donate to 'their' barn will want to come visit it? Homesteading isn't exempt from crazy stalker types, and it appears that she's just invited them into her life. It will be hard to get them out after an invitation like that.

She doesn't take criticism well. I've seen this in my personal dealings with her and on her blog. It's changed the blog away from being a conversational, learning experience towards the one-dimensional "atta-girl" stuff that's not so valuable. She won't learn much that way, until forced to by near-death experiences, which have happened. It makes for more drama, but while drama gets more hits and likely more dollars, drama can kill.

Even though I've been annoyed and frustrated reading about her life - I keep coming back to read more. Maybe that's what she's really after.

Michelle said...

Interesting to read all this, because even though I don't know the person you all are blogging and commenting about, I feel I have followed her twin sister's blog on the other side of the country. All she wanted was "atta girl" and sympathy, and when she felt I wasn't giving that wholeheartedly, she blocked me as a follower! No skin off my nose, and it made me realize that reading her blog was not a positive choice for me anyway.

kristi said...

I have been reading the past 2 days and since I am driving up your way in 2 weeks into Vermont to get my new Romneys I figured you might take me to this place you have been talking about;) It is amazing how much a little talk can do for the ego and others. I respect your honesty and insight!

Barb said...

Again thanks for the post. I have felt this way about the blogger but have been wondering if it was just me. Another thought, when she was asking for donations so she could buy a farm (ya...I want a farm, too) she went out and bought a border collie out of a well-known stud. I go to sheep dog trials and know full well that I cannot afford a border collie that comes from good stock. I fully agree with your assessment of said blogger.

Genny said...

Whoa! Were we all separated at birth? To continually ask for money to help buy your home and help you sustain your self-sustained lifestyle?! That's totally outrageous to me. I agree that the person is not open to criticism at all and gets very defensive. It bothers me that animals have suffered because this person just doesn't get it and continues to fly by the seat of the pants based on whatever farm animal catches this person's fancy based on whatever week it is, then admits it was the wrong timing, place, weather, and goes blithely on to something else. Case in point to adopt a small defenseless kitten when you have other animals that would tear it to shreds if given a chance and then be so consumed with taking a photo of it before it was acclimated to being in a strange and terrifying place that you, oops, let it run into the woods is irresponsible. Sorry for jumping on the bandwagon, but this has bugged me for a long time.