Chiara Dowell: The farm teaches virtue through the means of necessity

Little Flower Farm

[A comment, from the ongoing conversations of our readers, that deserves its own post… as many of our reader’s comments do… DS]

I think you might be surprised… if there were a new homestead act, or a breaking up of these mega farms, how many people would step up to the plate and seize the opportunity to scratch their living from the dirt. If land was opened up significantly, all those dreamers out there can move out of their conventional jobs, and all those “lazy unemployed” whose vision is often narrowed simply because of the stresses and strains of real need, can slide into the vacant positions. I don’t call those conventional jobs the end game, but in the meantime, it’s a temporary solution.

All this said, you don’t need to own land to farm: you can rent. You just need to start to throw all your weight (sometimes literally) into the effort…

There have been times when expired milk from stores and baling twine was pretty much all we had on the farm in terms of resources. I sold my engagement ring, my wedding ring, we sold our car, we sold our furniture… just to keep going, to make the next month’s rent… and then the big trump card: TRUST kept us going… God provides. And sure, at times this was stressful, but not as stressful as the slow and steady loss of soul that comes with the alternative.

We’ve made our living for the last two years on less than 5 acres. No outside jobs. This last year has been of particular interest to this discussion because our CSA shares were bought NOT by affluent city folks who want to dabble in local agriculture, but by small town low income families who have had to make plenty of sacrifices to see this farm through the season. We’ve thrown ourselves into the labor, and they in turn have supported us financially and emotionally. Some asked to pay in installments, but all recognized that if organically grown food is what is needed for health, then as such, as a need, somehow they’d be able to afford it. I guess it comes down to what do you trust? Your savings account? Your insurance company? Your 401K? Or how about the source of all life? Your neighbor? The soil?

When you think about it, it is extraordinary that on less than 5 acres we kept 40 families fed for 18+ weeks. Last year it was 60 families. Next year it will be 80. And we’re newbies. There are people out there with more knowledge and a heck of a lot more experience who could do better. But as newbies I know that there are alot of average joes out there who can do the same…

And here’s the best part: Land based enterprise by its very nature gives birth to all kinds of other businesses… you have grass, you get sheep, sheep have more sheep, you have lamb, you have livestock to sell, you have wool to sell to spinners, or to card yourself, your daughter can knit hats, she can sell them, she can dye wool, sell that, she can stuff pillows, make soap and candles from the tallow, or sell the tallow and someone else can, or give the tallow the the neighbor who gets and idea to go into business… or, you have woods, you get a goat, she has a kid, you have meat, you have milk, you make cheese, you make soap, you start “rent a goat” enterprise to keep invasive buckthorn out of neighbor’s back yards, you start a goat cheese and goat’s milk soap CSA in your neighborhood…etc….

This could go a thousand ways…if you have grass…

Then here’s the bestest part: Everyone (and yes, I mean EVERYONE) is lazy when it comes to physical labor. Kind of like NO ONE (and yes, I mean NO ONE ) is ready for children ever. But the farm, like giving birth, breaks you into the work and ITSELF is the antidote, hardening you slowly, and giving you the Winter to lick your wounds and rejuvenate.

When you have children they usually come one at a time, and you grow as they do…

The farm teaches virtue through the means of necessity. I learned to butcher pigs because when my husband slammed a half of a hog on the kitchen counter I realized how hungry I was for meat, because we had been eating rice and beans for an awfully long time. We couldn’t afford the butcher, and had a indecent desire for sausage, so I dug in. Grabbed a pocket knife and a saw and did the thing. I could have kissed the feet of the poverty and need that egged me on.

When we allow people to find themselves in REALITY and by that I mean within a system devoid of money growing itself electronically, but rather in the context of a seed that makes a plant, that when weeded, watered, and manured, will produce a fruit with thousands or hundreds of seeds (true interest gained), then they will slowly wake up to become better laborers. But we need inspiration too, not just reward, not just a paycheck…. we need something to reach for… and that’s where FREEDOM comes in, as many who frequent this site have spoken of better than I…..

One last thing: In terms of economic viability, I really think we have to be thinking not in terms of the present generations but the future ones…. and that’s one of the best reasons for human scaled farms: they keep future generations on the land.


Hello from an unusually wet Australia. I have been reading these posts and thinking how much ” real farming is real farming” no matter where you are on the planet. And with this I don’t mean “agribusiness”. We here in Australia are usually thought of as farmers with huge expanses of land. But that is only a small portion of the community. There are plenty of farmers here which share Gene’s and your philosophy of sustainable and considered agriculture. Unfortunately we also have some of the largest predatory expansions and sell offs of agricultural land in our history going on. None of these will lead to more jobs or better communities. Keep the message coming. It will sink in when the corporations own all the food, soil and grain instead of communities.

Gene, I love your writing. Have for a long time. However, THANK YOU for sharing the brilliant writing of the community you’ve helped unite. Chiara, you’re as eloquent as you are honest. “Farming Life” might feel like a romantic idea to city slickers, but the reality is, it aint easy. You’re right about parenthood too, NO ONE IS TRULY READY. When it hits, it hits hard. Same with raising food. Yet when you do either (parenthood OR farming, or even gardening) you somehow figure it out. It redefines “romantic” from imaginary bliss to reality based happiness. Gene, Chiara, and everyone, keep up the awesome writing. Simply put, Y’ALL ROCK. Cheers! John

I appreciate this post as I’ve benefited from learning the “law of the farm”. Author Stephen Covey says, “The only thing that endures over time is the ‘Law of the Farm.’ You must prepare the ground, plant the seed, cultivate and water if you expect to reap the harvest.” Once you get your first animal or plant the first seed, all else follows from the need to tend to them. I have learned so much from jumping into doing things I’ve never done before.

Wouldn’t call myself a “farmer”, but from the little I’ve done, I’ve certainly gained a great deal of practical inspiration and tools for living and making artwork. I’m reading Gene’s book “The Mother of all Arts”.

Yeah, “distributist” does sound socialistic.


Yes, I’ve heard of Distributism. I get a lot of weird looks when I call myself a Distributist. 🙂 A lot of folks do seem to think of it as “socialism in sheep’s clothing,” which is about as far wrong as possible. I think it’s the name. I’ve seen one suggestion that we just call it “Jeffersonianism” in America, since it’s pretty much the vision Jefferson had for this fledgling Republic.


Very inspiring, Chiara, I wish you the best!

That’s the best thing I’ve read in a long time. I’m going to hang on to this.

This may be a stupid question, but have any of you every heard of “Distributism”? It’s kinda sorta similar to Southern Agaraianism. It’s a little nuanced and hard to explain (when I was first heard of it I was adamant that it was socialism in sheep’s clothing). I don’t know if “economic theory” would be the right word, but the distributists have some very sharp criticisms of both capitalism and socialism, both of which they see as leading to the concentration of wealth, power and the means of production into the hands of a few. Central to the philosophy of Distributism is a proper understanding of the nature of man. Man is by nature creative (an artist) and the chief way most people express thier artistry is though their work. The most famous proponents of distributism were Hilaire Belloc and G.K. Chesterton.

Here are a few attempts to define it:

“Under this system, all people would own property, would be self-supportive and therefore free and able to fend for themselves against efforts of government to constrict freedom through passage of coercive laws in the name of humanitarianism and social security. Distributism means free individuals and families, with none supporting others, and with the state adapted to the requirements of economic freedom rather than the reverse.” Nisbett, Robert. (Nisbett is not a proponent of Distributism, by the way)

“Distributism is less an economic theory than a moral anthropology. Its economic claims proceed from anterior moral claims about the acting person and the nature of charitable community. It is concerned above all with the creative subjectivity of human persons, their openness to transforming grace, and their capacity for dignity through work and property.” Dermot Quinn, First Things. 55 (August/September 1995): 2

“The aim of distributism is family ownership of land, workshops, stores, transport, trades, professions, and so on. Family ownership in the means of production so widely distributed as to be the mark of the economic life of the community-this is the Distributist’s desire. It is also the world’s desire.” Dorothy Day The Catholic Worker, June 1948.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s