Food Farming As Artistic Endeavor


Commercial print book publishers are viewing the future with gloom while paradoxically the number of new book titles published yearly grows by leaps and bounds— over two million last year if the statistics can be believed. I doubt anyone really knows the exact number as self-published books flood the marketplace. At the same time, agribusiness experts are raising red flags all over the Chicago Board of Trade about the possibility that industrial farming is heading into a troubling decade even while local food market agriculture goes booming right along.

I wonder if both books and food are being affected by the same social forces. What is happening with book authoring— and with other artistic endeavors— is easy enough to see. Electronics has made it relatively cheap to produce and reproduce books, songs and paintings. Literally millions of people are willing to produce and promulgate their own art even if it doesn’t earn them a cent. All it takes to publish a book now is around three thousand dollars and the writer’s time. The payoff or profit comes not in monetary sales but in personal satisfaction. And as more and more people now have the education and revelation to realize that they have artistic talent, an amazing amount of good art is being created almost everywhere.

Could the same thing be happening in food production? A growing number of food producers are “self-publishing their own books” so to speak, in their gardens or on their little farms. Some of them make a modest living at it; most do it for the satisfaction they derive from it. What they are practicing is home economy, not market economy. Food has the added advantage not true of the other arts. We can’t live without it. By producing one’s own, there’s real money savings involved.

The fly in the ointment of my food romanticist’s way of thinking is that producing food can be drudgery and hard work, something many people think they would rather pay someone else to do for them. I often think about what a social worker in Kentucky once told me. She noticed how so many of the out-of-work coal miner families that she was trying to help were on welfare and food stamps even though they had ample backyard space for gardens. She asked around. “Poor people plant gardens,” she was told. “We aren’t poor, just out of work.” The social worker started making available copies of upscale magazines full of articles about beautiful and bountiful gardens. Richer people gardened too. Richer people gardened most of all. Eventually she had whole neighborhoods providing much of their own food.

Attitude is nearly everything. For centuries, the economic model for farming was a market venture based on profit and loss. Cities kept growing in size so there was no lack of consumers, many of whom had experienced drudgery and hard work producing food for other people and they never wanted to see a hoe again. Farming went from hunting and gathering (now considered recreation) to growing food to sell with the people who did the work getting very little pay.

Now we have a different economic model for food. You grow your own to satisfy your artistic creativity and because it tastes better than the commercial stuff. And more and more, people who think they don’t have time to be creative this way are willing to buy the surplus for what it’s really worth.

How much of the world’s food is now produced this way?  How much of the world’s food could be produced this way? Wouldn’t it be awesome if at least half of the food consumed were grown outside the unforgiving jaws of commercial profit and loss and were viewed as creative art like all those zillions of books, songs and paintings out there? Perhaps society would then become convinced that most of the food we eat could be produced this way. Halleluiah.

 But I know what would happen then. Governments would try to levy a tax on gardening.


Food for thoughts and food for the gray mass. You are right Gene, we are all after being self suficiently free for both of these foods. The phenomenon is the same. And ofcourse, governments will try to restrain this liberty by taxations: unfurtunately this is the way they get their food. We may need to take a next step: giving freely what freely we have got!

I know it is late to comment however I just read this post today. I have a very close friend that lives in Marysville Ohio. She planted tomato plants in her suburban front flower garden and received a commendation from the city for “greenscaping”……after she received a warning letter from her homeowner’s association for breakiing rules/regulations by actually planting food plants (oh the horror!!!!) in the subdivision controlled by the association. How screwed up is our society/priorities?

Deb Wingert, it’s probably not a good thing to believe a farmer’s tale of woe. It’s what they do. I’ve never met a farmer who did well enough that they didn’t need any more help from the government, even the ones who just bought a new F-350, four door, four wheel drive powerstroke. It’s great to grow as much of your own food as possible, and support farmer’s markets to keep your money local; selling produce is a tough way to make a buck. The numbers you cite seem a little suspicious is all I’m saying.

I have recently had first hand knowledge of what people consider as drudgery when it comes to producing food. Some folks my way tried to do a community garden in an economically depressed area of town with little success. There are many reasons but the biggest is the lack of knowledge on how to garden or grow things. I learned that lesson when I working in the Ag industry many years ago putting in 110 hour weeks in the spring. In order to have a garden I relied on some of Ruth Stouts ideas and Dick Raymond’s wide row ideas. To this day I can intensively plant 1200 sq. ft. by myself in a day and do very little weeding the rest of the season. I still remember rototilling and hoeing for days on end when I was a kid.

I for one plan to help this community garden project in the future with nurturing, teaching and working beside people that are willing to learn. Maybe some of the rest of the folks who read this blog will be mentors as well. In my opinion that is how you change things for the better.

On the topic of food production, I coincidentally just read a report on called “Hungry for land: Small farmers feed the world with less than one quarter of all farmland” It challenged many of my assumptions.

Just about finished, A Sanctuary of Trees. I spent most of my childhood weekends roaming through the woods in the Poconos and I still find a certain sense of comfort from having trees nearby. I’m familiar with the ginko tree that was mentioned in the book that still stands at Temple University’s Ambler campus. I stared at it with the same fascination. Similar to the book, I aspire to one day retire near that woodlot that I roamed through as a kid. Glad I happened across your writings, now I’d like to read all of them. Thanks for the inspiration…….

So true, Gene. Just driving back from Santa Fe where I picked up a copy of “Gene Everlasting” at a bookstore/gallery and bought some organic produce and dried beans at their farmer’s market. The one farmer told how the local government is changing the ag property taxes which raises them from $300/acre to $3000 and excluding horses from agriculture. Family farms held for generations are being told to pay up or forfeit their land and horse people are told to eat their horses. Appalling.

While attending the Mother Earth New Fair in Asheville, I was surprised to hear it is the fastest growing magazine in the US. Not just among hippie lefty types either. Quite a few conservative preppers as well as a wide spectrum of other folks were attending as well. It seems we all think we need to know how to grow our own food and that things are going downhill, even if for varying reasons that include various apocalypse scenarios for which we don’t trust our government to come to our aid, or the end of the oil age, or overpopulation and scarcity of affordable food for all. My power went out for a brief time this morning with a round of storms. I consider myself pretty food secure but it was still very annoying. I didn’t want to dodge lightning bolts to get to the camp stove and fuel in the shed and I get pretty cranky without my morning coffee! I know I’m whining now I truly hope we are all WRONG and the power never goes out for good!

dancinghairwoman June 5, 2014 at 1:19 am

Like Steve, Constant Gardener and others who have commented on Gene’s post I too have a clothesline. I’ve been hanging laundry for fifty years, even on cold freezing days when the sun was shining. This was partly because the clothes dryer in our house was more upside down being repaired than right side up and with six kids my Mom didn’t have much choice.
We had several huge gardens and when Mom locked the screen doors from the inside and claimed she was mopping floors we’d raid the tomatoes and pull up the carrots for our afternoon snack.
Those were the days, though my Mom would surely disagree. I do my best to recreate those times on my own little plot of land and teach my grandchildren about being responsible consumers. In turn they think Nana’s house is the best place on earth and haul their city friends out in the summer. Those kids too, are starved for common sense and can’t wait for their turn to spend a week or two mucking out the pig pen, collecting eggs from our little coop and getting their hands dirty pulling weeds and collecting the ripe produce from our garden. Of course, I think the leisurely afternoons spent at the creek have something to do with it too.
And oh! Constant Gardener, although I don’t have the good fortune to have a Prius (my thirteen year old grandson’s dream car) or a rooftop power source I’m happy to hear those that can are doing their part to help clean up our world. So, thanks! I would if I could….

I have seen a movement here in Europe that combines the kitchen garden with the flower garden. I have done some but a row of peas or hills of squash always gives me satisfaction. On your last sentence how true. I am reminded of the saying “The only two thing sure in life are death and taxes and death may be negotiable.”

Constant Gardener June 4, 2014 at 7:49 pm

I’m with Steve Johnson (despite my hybird and solar panels). I garden, compost almost all my trash, keep hens, and dry clothes in the sunshine. He’s right that if most folks took at least a little stand against consumerism, everyone would be better off.

I am pretty smug too, I confess. In my defense, it’s because of my nicely composted garden, because an injured chicken is presently asleep on her hospital roost atop the toilet in the master bath, and because I have a clothesline. I love that clothesline. You know, Steve, your South Park caricature of people, people conspicuously like me, is pretty unfair and unkind. But as your clothesline brother, I stand with you nevertheless.

Wow! I like that new way of thinking about producing one’s own food….an artistic endeavor!
That’s a whole new angle, I think. We are slowly producing more of our food but are a long ways from having enough garden produce to last the winter. At least we have chicken, pork, and elk in the freezer that we raised or hunted. It feels great!

I suspect part of the rush to garden — for some, at least — is a tiny, niggling anxiety about the state of the world and the desire to stock up for when the bad times come (as they always do). Making it pretty is secondary, but there’s no question that making it pretty tends to lure more in, which is all to the good.

Even now the government has become involved with small scale food production with all the rules and regulations in place to govern Farmer’s Markets. It is discouraging!

Timely and so true.

Growing as much of my own food as possible has always been very important to my sense of self and soul health and happiness. My gardens have ever been a mix of the practical and the beautiful – food plants interspersed with flowers and herbs, simply because I love seeing blossoms, in addition to food. The pollinators appreciate the variety, as well.

This year, the elder daughter and I have made as many new garden beds as the full-sun portion of the (former) back yard allows. So satisfying in so many ways (and less grass to mow)!

I come from a long line of gardeners, and now the latest generation (20 months and 18 months) are participating in that legacy, also, by helping Granny and Auntie water their plants, pick up rocks, and turn over soil with their little trowels. Their parents have gardens, too, at their homes for them to enjoy. The gardening genes have definitely been passed on!

You’d love my clothesline, Steve. It is right beside the latest-dug garden beds. I don’t care at all what the neighbors might say or think, because I know my decision is best for me and the health of our planet. All of us can do our part to preserve as much of the earth and her systems as is in our power. Outdoor clothes-drying is simple, free, and non-polluting. And in the end, that mind-set, and example, is what is important.

Sometimes being on the cutting edge is difficult. Your neighbors might be won over to the wise side yet. 🙂

As always Gene-food for thought. I guess mankind has never been happy since they left the first garden.

Hi Gene,
Your last sentence made my day.

Producing one’s own food is not drudgery. It is work, yes, but work done right is work rewritten. It needs its own word. And thus is growing food beautiful, sane, rewarding, purposeful, artistic, eternal, the sanest activity the clever can do. But the masses of the clever, having not had the right opportunities, the right doors opened for them, choose instead to work in tall buildings. They literally leave earth. They literally know nothing of their two hands. They go inside and so shut out the seasons and the moons and sanity of being dirty. There are lots of upside-down realities in life, but the divorce of the clever from the high art of growing food is the most egregious. God and government both should be ashamed. I say get thee to a garden. If it seems impossible, whose fault is that? If your body hurts, whose fault is that? If you say you are going to garden some day, are going to actually live up close with food (which is to say live up close with existence) but not just yet…lordy

If every household would simply produce something – anything – insead of only consumng, a sea change ould occur that would have a ripple effect. No better product, for all households, than a garden to effect the desired changes. Alas, many people would rather buy a Prius, or buy an expensive solar array for their rooftop, than do some actual physical labor. Then, they can feel smug, and superior. Some of my neighbors consider me white trash because we hang laundry out to dry. I don’t give a rat’s …………

Well said Gene. Growing your own isn’t at all akin to buying similar items at the market. Knowing the soil and water and work that went into the homegrown products simply makes it better. I don’t mean just taste-wise but more in the way of knowing the food. Call it “magic” when one puts one’s homegrown food into jars and seals them up after canning, knowing the winter can be a little less fearful in regard to hunger. Call it magic when biting into a tomato just picked at the peak of ripeness. Deep in our hearts we know this is right. It is probably deeply ingrained in our beings that supermarkets laden with products we didn’t produce. Call it magic when we see our children playing and glowingly healthy becasue of the homegrown goodness they shovel into their moths at mealtime. Yes I believe it is the Creator who makes all this happen :if we sow we shall reap, but it is still: magic” .

I’m glad the social worker was ingenious enough to allow for the magic to re-start in Kentucky. Perhaps if we all look for the magic in our homegrown lives the world will be better because we’ve started to move away from the power of the almighty dollar and the power of the government to control and provide for us. I’m going outside now to work in the garden to practice garden art and participate in the magic.

Thank you Gene; you seem to always make me think.

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