Sunday, September 28, 2008

Farmhouse Foolishness

I find it funny how people love the quaintness of farmhouses. Today, I drove past a local house that has been fixed up in the 14 years I have been on the roads around here. It certainly had been a run-down place at times. It had even been a farm. Surrounded by nice, rich, river-bottom soils, and a flat valley, it is definitely quite picturesque.

But now the electro-mesh and fiberglass poles surround a play area filled with plastic Little Tykes climbers and toys. And the house has been painted in fancy colors. It's true, it finally looks well kept. But while the building is attractive, and the name adorable... even including the word "farm" in the title, the fields are fallow and bare.

True, earth should rest. Any amateur agriculturalist worth half their weight in salt knows that.

But a farmhouse should be on a farm.

As "flatlanders" (myself included) invade this agrarian landscape, farm after farm turns to yuppy playhouse, and some turn to developments to feed the need for housing in a rapidly growing region. Many here are retirees as well. People not interested in getting their knees dirty, smelling like deisel fuel, or chasing critters around a pen.

That is not to say there aren't a lot of people who are willing to farm. Vermont is full of them. The Harwick area where we used to live is bursting with renewed agricultural systems from farms, to dairy processing, to soy, to restaurants feeding local foods. There is even a composting company. The systems there have increasingly become more local, more sustainable, and more agrarian.

When we moved here, we knew there would be a lot more people. We knew we would benefit in many ways from the conveniences set up to serve so many people. But in the midst of so many people sometimes one sees why Vermont culture is disappearing in the same way small, localized cultures have disappeared all over the United States. Beyond becoming a "Walmart Nation", we are becoming a nation that longs for an idyllic nature that never existed.

The idyllic, post-card nature of that farm this morning is a case-in-point. It idealizes the work of the farm. We use the term "farm" without seeing the hard work, the deep monetary commitment, the difficulty of balancing between sustainable and affordable.

But farmland is working land. As a t-shirt at the Plainfield farmer's market proclaims: FOOD NOT LAWNS. What if that were true? What if rather than chasing the perfect sod, we tilled it in? Let it grow to house the critters who need to live there, and upon whom we invisably rely? What if we treated our soil like our very blood, rather than the dirt between our toes?

Such foolishness it seems, farmhouses without farms.


Cecilia said...

Just stumbled upon your blog and agree completely with your sentiments on farms and farmhouses. Definitely food for thought.

I live in Montpelier (sounds like you just may have moved here?) and we're considering moving to Craftsbury.

Well, I hope you're having a terrific autumn.

Anonymous said...

This reminds me of how San Francisco changed during the years I lived there. In the 70s I saw a funky neighborhood in the Mission District become gentrified. The marvelous ethnic mix turned monochromatic. I consoled myself by concentrating on the charming architecture that was renewed instead of continuing on its fall into ruin. The buildings will stay, the people come and go, I suppose...Ginny (Hi Ericka, a kiss from Brazil)