Starting a Farm from Scratch: Part 1
by Chris Grataski
We (Melissa and Chris) have been gardening, farming, practicing herbalism and ecological design in one form or another for the last 15 years. As we’ve grown into this diverse skill-set, we’ve also grown deeper in our conviction that a purposeful and tactile connection with one’s food and local landscape is an essential component of both personal and cultural health.
We met one another a decade ago at a workshop on grassroots responses to homelessness, food insecurity, and racial injustice. That workshop was an attempt to “connect the dots” between various issues, and looking back on the last ten years, the same can be said for how we’ve spent much of our time since.
We’ve long believed that the social and ecological dysfunction that plague contemporary life are not separate issues, but grow out of the same cluster of root causes. Land management and food production have always been inextricable from the personal, political, economic, and cultural realities that shape the world. We think it follows that any attempt to give ourselves to the work of ecological and social restoration must be as intersectional as the problems themselves. Taking our cue from the poet Wendell Berry, however, we know we can’t “fix” everything. There’s simply no way we can put everything that’s broken back together. But we do believe we can do one or two things well. We can mend a small piece of the earth, love our neighbors, pass on skills and knowledge, and perhaps even collaborate with people to help build a more just and adaptive watershed. And we believe it’s possible to do these simple and small things in a way that’s truly accountable to the “big problems,” the systemic issues of our time, and accountable to people less privileged than ourselves.
We moved to Vermont to start a farm in conjunction with Roots School because we want to share our knowledge and experience with people who are searching for deeper, more practical connection with their landscapes. And we also believe that paying attention to wild ecosystems, learning to grow food and medicine, and engaging new skills can be a powerful way to reframe how we approach the “big problems” that seem so insurmountable today.
To learn the disciplines of homesteading, land restoration, and appropriate technology is in many ways an end in itself, but these skills are also a route to becoming more engaged citizens, people whose social imagination is shaped not merely by the news, but by the ecological processes that we all depend upon. This is one route to becoming people capable of taking practical responsibility for our basic needs, as well as contributing meaningfully to our community.
Ultimately, our desire is to cultivate a farm that, in collaboration with Roots, can help people acquire the skills and imagination necessary to weather the difficult times we live in, and perhaps to help folks take a few steps toward creating a world where it’s a little easier to be good.
This work is both simple and challenging; it is both personal and public. From one day to the next it is always a little different. But this simple work, this complex and challenging work… this is our passion, and it is what we can’t not do.