Community Philosphy Blog and Library

Posts Tagged ‘farmer’

HOMEGROWN Life: A Trip to Remember

Thursday, July 9th, 2015


Vacation is something that I have a hard time coming to terms with, something that creates a great deal of confusion.

I recently returned from a road and camping trip that began here in West Missouri and ended up visiting my wife’s sister’s family in the Puget Sound of Washington. It was in most ways awe-inspiring and life-changing. I suppose in some ways it was depressing. Whatever it was, in the end, I’m still working out. But let me say a few things regarding the perspective of a place-based farmer that cares about the complicated nature of balance between people trying to feed ourselves while leaving room for the non-human creatures with whom we share the surface of our ever-evolving home.


I haven’t had a bona fide vacation since the summer of 2011 (a trip with my family and parents to Yellowstone National Park), so this was a big deal. This is not really a complaint, more of a data point. My wife and two sons and I had been saving pennies and quarters and random dollars in a “trip jar” for about two years so we could make the trip happen. We pitched our tent and made most of our own food, traveling light though covering many miles.

As an overview, we saw the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, Mesa Verde National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Arches National Park, Crater Lake National Park, the Oregon Dunes, and more. My wife, my hero, planned most of it and made the trip possible. If there’s an award out there for someone who inspires and takes care of what the family needs to ease tensions and feed the soul some nature-based nourishment, please let me know. I’d like to nominate her.

Anyway, back to the trip itself. Traveling through a dryer-than-seems-possible place to practice agriculture always provides interesting fodder for the farmer-minded. Colorado and Utah and Nevada, though mountainous, were full of agricultural activity. There were crops and cattle and sheep, seemingly larger than life attempts to make hay to last what have to be long and brutal mountain winters.

Mostly, I was shocked by Mesa Verde and the history of humans inhabiting and making a living in the cliff dwellings that dot the region. Before we visited, I had assumed wrongly that the agricultural practices would have occurred in the bottoms near creeks or streams. Instead, the farmers lived in the cliffs and climbed directly up to the blufftops (the “Mesa”) to tend their crops. They dryland farmed using innovative practices that certainly conserved water and directed it to the corn, beans, and squash the farm families depended on. This in an environment where trees can’t survive, other than some scrubby cedars and shrubs with limited height. To be honest, it was the desert. And while farming has long-occurred in the desert, it always boggles my Midwest/Upland Southern mind.


Couple that shock at lack of moisture with an “infrastructure” of vertical rock-climbing to go too and from the field, and it becomes obvious why we humans can collaborate and figure out how to occupy any ecological niche within the planet. We’ve got a toolbox, including farming, that helps us to engineer ways to make a living in almost any climate. While it might be a tenuous and fragile living (subject to changes in rainfall patterns and climate), we humans can figure out a diversity of strategies for hammering out communities. I say it again: Amazing, mind-blowing, inspiring, etc.

Now I’m back home, experiencing historical June/July rains and flooding. I’m still trying to sort out the details of how the travels have reinvigorated and changed me. Had to get back to work, write grants, sheer sheep, sort cattle. And all I can think about is how blessed we are to live in a society where we value special places enough to preserve them as shrines to visit.

So get out there, fellow citizens. Pitch your tents somewhere interesting. Look at the stars, smell the air somewhere. Watch the fireflies. Visit the places our ancestors have set aside for us to enjoy. We helped to invent the National Park system a few generations ago, and we need to keep them as sacred and protected places. They are our own domestic temples of inspiration. Farmer or non-farmer, country person or city person, get out there and see something new. It might change your life. If nothing else, it might confuse you in a very positive way.


HOMEGROWN-bryce-oates-150x150Bryce Oates is a farmer, a father, a writer, and a conservationist in western Missouri. He lives and works on his family’s multi-generational farm, tending cattle, sheep, goats, and organic vegetables. His goals in life are simple: wake up before the sun, catch a couple of fish, turn the compost pile, dig potatoes, and sit by the fire in the evening, watching the fireflies mimic the stars.


HOMEGROWN Life: A Farmer’s Advice for Dealing with Climate Change and the Urgent Sense of Impending Doom

Wednesday, April 1st, 2015


Living an agricultural life provides a great deal of solitary time to wrestle with your thoughts. Sometimes that’s pleasant; other times it can be a mess. My own internal dialogue cranks through a steady stream of issues.

Today’s list has so far included:

  • Weather-related worries, including present and future climate concerns.
  • My increasing love for soccer (as a fan, soccer parent, and volunteer coach).
  • Interesting opportunities for farmers, such as whether or not it makes sense to harvest and shell pecans or just leave them for the squirrels. And, heck, can we tap those trees for pecan syrup while we’re at it?
  • Worries about when my next paycheck is going to hit the mailbox.
  • Continuous noise about the sorry state of affairs related to politics and American democracy, especially when it comes to the giant gap between the wealthiest Americans and the middle-to-working-to-poorest classes where most of us land.
  • Meandering nervousness about how the rest of us can step up to raise fresh vegetables, fruit, and nuts when California actually runs out of water.


I suppose this is mostly normal behavior. At least that’s what I tell myself. But if you’re like me, hovering on the edge of day-to-day issues combined with a giant precipice of social and environmental depression, take some time and read a very thoughtful and intriguing piece by Jonathan Franzen in the New Yorker.

Franzen has some important things to say about the duality of dealing with the scientific knowledge of impending doom because of carbon emissions and climate change while trying to stay sane and address everyday challenges. Franzen also nails it when it comes to concerns for the poorest humans, who did very little to increase carbon emissions themselves but are going to bear the brunt of the damage as the climate continues its inevitable rise in temperature and unpredictability.

Mostly, though, I like Franzen’s thoughts related to the prospect that it might be a mistake to focus on climate change as an issue while neglecting “conservation” as a crucial social and cultural value to moderate the impacts of human greed, development, expansion, exploitation, etc.


As a farmer and member of a rural community, I agree strongly that local concerns for how resources are developed, used, and conserved are the issues the ring true to most folks. I know many a conservative-gun-rights-anti-Obama local who equally hates the trend toward bulldozing hedgerows and woodlots to make more room for very marginal farmland here in West Missouri. Maybe that’s because of a populist sentiment for watching as the handful of big row croppers gets bigger; maybe it’s because they’ve seen wildlife like whitetail deer and blue herons and songbirds recover as a conservation ethic has taken increasing hold over the past century or so.

The only real supplement I’d add to Franzen’s article has to do with the concept that we all live in a working landscape. Perhaps it appears more direct to those of us that work daily with the animals around us, the soil we walk on, the water that falls and runs through the low spots as the seasons push and pull. Still, the fact is we are all made up of the prairies and orchards we eat. We borrow and impact the water with our drinking and cleaning and flushing. No matter how thoroughly our minds try to separate us from the nonhuman world, we all live in a real place where we serve the role of collective ecosystem engineers. We’re the apex predator; the social megafauna who determines nutrient and resource flows. We produce abundance and scarcity at the same time, depending on whether you’re a plant, animal, or member of the fungi community.


Realizing this impact and role can be both scary and incredibly empowering. Sure, we can squander the chance to make things better over time. But we can also make progress, even if that’s a strange human concept to the rest of the creatures we live around. We can take action to restore the bald eagle to some degree of thriving. Heck, I didn’t grow up seeing bald eagles soar over the pastures and ponds of Western Missouri farm country. Now every December through February I see them regularly.

Taking collective action to leave some room for (and to stop poisoning) eagles might be a more trivial accomplishment than trying to minimize global climate change by cutting carbon pollution. That said, we can see our efforts in person or through photos or video paying off with conservation. We can watch as our actions either create better or worse conditions for the living things around us.


I suppose I’m going down this line of reasoning since it reflects a bit of personal therapy. I have been dealing with some serious situational depression, and like many people, am trying to focus on the things in my life that I can actually have some degree of control over versus just accepting the things outside of my realm of influence. Coming to terms with the difference between those two poles is a difficult thing, but it’s something we humans need to mind carefully as a society and culture and global community.

Do we have the courage, strength, and self-awareness it takes to create livelihoods that take into account clear boundaries, minding conservation and impacts on local ecosystems? Do we have the honesty to say so when we take too much and create a problematic future? Do we have the eyes to see and the ears to hear that it’s completely possible to share the world with other people, other animals and other plants?

Clearly, we are going to be living the questions. I’ll be there with you, asking away the day.


HOMEGROWN-bryce-oates-150x150Bryce Oates is a farmer, a father, a writer, and a conservationist in western Missouri. He lives and works on his family’s multi-generational farm, tending cattle, sheep, goats, and organic vegetables. His goals in life are simple: wake up before the sun, catch a couple of fish, turn the compost pile, dig potatoes, and sit by the fire in the evening, watching the fireflies mimic the stars.


Sensory Overload: Shane MacGowan, Irish Farmer

Friday, March 16th, 2012


It’s not truly St. Patrick’s Day without a healthy dose of The Pogues wash down your Guinness. While frontman Shane MacGowan is best known as a drunken Irish punk, he hails from a family farm in County Tipperary, and recently has returned to his farmboy roots.

In 2009, Shane and his wife, Irish writer Victoria Mary Clarke, starred in their own Irish television special Victoria and Shane Grow Their Own. Inspired by Michelle Obama’s White House garden and the 1970s British TV Show The Good Life, the special documents Victoria’s and Shane’s attempt to live off of their garden and host a harvest party featuring their vegetable cache.

Image courtesy of

Sadly, Victoria and Shane Grow Their Own never aired in the States, but one can only imagine the antics that went on.  Apparently, there wasn’t much success in the garden, despite Shane’s fondness for providing “helpful” farming tips. Hilarity ensues, and I hope to catch some clips of it someday…

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, HOMEGROWNers. I raise my glass to a hearty growing season. I leave you with one last Irish blessing, and a classic from The Pogues to kickstart your holiday.

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again,
may you have more bountiful brassicas than Farmer MacGowan!