My husband and I often talk about living a simpler life; growing a lot of our own food, raising our own chickens, owning less stuff. But, like most people, we find it hard to be serious about making the switch; to give up an already established good life for one that is a big question mark. We do our best. We have a big garden. And some years it has done well, but lately we’ve been preoccupied with other projects and our garden has turned out looking more like a giant tangle of weeds.
Regardless of how our garden turns out, we are big fans of the local market. We try to get as much produce there as we can, as well as meat and eggs. There are other projects we’re interested in, too – renewable energy sources (my husband is hoping to make a do-it-yourself solar panel), composting (we have had a giant compost pile in our back yard since we moved here 11 years ago – so far our neighbours have been very gracious about it), local sources for baking ingredients (we get most of our flour, oats, popcorn, and other grains and legumes from a local mill), and I do my best to make most of our baked goods and meals from scratch (the older the kids get and the more they eat, the harder this gets…).
All of this to say that, despite my preference for fiction, I’m drawn to memoirs about farming or people’s attempts to change their lives dramatically. One of my favourite memoirs ever is The Dirty Life by Kristin Kimball, in which she goes from being the product of a big city to the wife of an organic farmer. She doesn’t romanticize it – in fact, most people (people in their right minds) would probably read it and think “never!”, but to me it sounds dreamy. Similar books I have read are Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver and The 100-Mile Diet by Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon.
So, when I saw this new book about a Canadian couple living in Edmonton and starting a small organic farm an hour and a half northwest of Edmonton, I requested a copy of it right away. Thank you to Wolsak and Wynn for sending it to me!
A Profession of Hope is a collection of essays written about the experiences of the author and her husband in starting up their small farm. Jenna Butler talks about the reasons behind their decision to take action (the hardest part), and the slow but rewarding process of building their farm. Their land truly needed a lot of work. It was not a prime location, and they were battling against the elements, not to mention the mosquitoes.
Once again, these essays convey the amount of work involved in doing something like this. She doesn’t try to make it sound easy, but she does make it sound satisfying. That feeling you get when you hang your laundry on the line rather than put it in the dryer, or the one you get from eating a home-cooked meal rather than one out of a take-out bag.
Butler writes about nature and what that word means to people. She writes about feeling connected to the land and the importance of improving it for future generations. But she also writes about the hard work, long hours, and dedication needed. As well as being new farmers, they have also kept their full-time positions as teachers in the city, and have continued to travel back and forth between their two lives. Butler is not trying to tell everyone to go out and do this; she knows her life is not for everyone. But she wants to pass on her experiences and what she’s learned about farming in a northern climate; things that she and her husband had to figure out along the way.
Anyone intrigued at all about this kind of lifestyle and how people are able to make it work (although, she freely admits that things don’t always work, and that their farm is really just one big process of trying new things and figuring out what works and what doesn’t), would like this book. It’s adventurous, meditative, reflective, and above all hopeful. I imagine the kind of people who go out and start up small organic farms must be people full of hope; for themselves, for the earth, and for the future. You can’t get much more inspirational than that.
Yes, I despair for what is happening to the land around me, but I find beauty in the land’s ability to survive, too. I struggle every day with the knowledge of what Big Oil is doing, but I also see the strength of the land around me and think it vital to celebrate.
… I really believe in talking about our sense of place, and that stories are one of our first shared lines of defence of the places we care about.