Farm Life

Ides of March

March is a difficult month for vegetable farmers – a real no man’s land. It snows, it rains, it snows again, and daily temperatures go up and down like a yo-yo. It’s not as if we could begin fieldwork anyway – even without snow the soil will remain waterlogged well into April, and no self-respecting farmer ventures into his/her fields under such inauspicious conditions. It’s just that March is that one month too much of winter, the one month that should be removed from the calendar altogether. We are convinced this explains why some farmers, including yours truly, populate their barns with animals of all types – sheep, cows, horses, chickens – and take solace in the routine of daily animal chores that help fill long winter days. Winter months are also ideal for poring through the abundant agricultural literature we amass on our bedside tables whose call beckons but is rarely heeded during the busy growing season. We subscribe to several agricultural magazines and are frequent book-buyers – so our bedside stacks are high. Without the winter months to whittle them down to size, we would have to change our reading regimen.

For those of you interested in res agricola, we suggest the following news publications: Quebec’s own agricultural Pravda, La terre de chez nous, published by l’UPA (Union des producteurs agricoles); “Small Farm Canada” and their excellent articles on diversified agriculture; and “Growing for Market,” an American magazine with a particular focus on the CSA (community-supported agriculture) model. We also suggest the following writers we have found of particular interest. First, the American environmentalist and journalism professor Michael Pollan, author of, among others, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals” (2006), and “The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World” (2001), two New York Times best-sellers well worth reading. Second, American free-lancer (now organic farmer) Kristin Kimball, author of “The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food, and Love” (2010), a personal account of her transition from a completely urban existence in New York City to a completely agricultural existence on a farm on the shores of Lake Champlain. Third, québécois academic David Dupont, author of a social history of farming in Quebec entitled Une brève histoire de l’agriculture au Québec: de la conquête du sol à la mondialisation. And finally, Florence Thinard, author of Une seule Terre pour nourrir les hommes – a family book published by Gallimard Jeunesse, a thoughtful and beautifully illustrated introduction to the “fundamental link between agriculture and food, between Earth and plate.”