Category Archives: Farming

the green-up

I’m pleased to announce that my mood and my yard are much improved since my last post. We’ve burned “yard waste”, which translates in our case to leaves, branches, all of the cedar we cut down last year, the slab pine that we mistakenly thought would make good firewood, the wood & cardboard remnants of the hallway and living room that we gutted and piles and piles of the thorny mess we’re clearing from the hillside.  We built a compost bin after a year of dumping into assorted piles, and Wyatt roofed the chicken coop! The whole scene is a lot less redneck than it was a few weeks ago. Mother nature has added her own touch as everything has started to “green-up”. Daffodils, trillium, tulips, forget-me-nots and the expansive lawn that I’m gradually turning into garden. The garlic has poked up out of the ground, and for each clove that didn’t sprout, I plunked a compost volunteer sprout into it’s place. Continue reading


writer’s block.

I haven’t written since May.  You all know that, of course – just look at the date of the last post.  I’m sitting here at the Bangor Public Library – it’s quiet, i’m surrounded by books, the sun shines in the big old windows behind me and I have to type in my shadow.  But I’m just not quite sure what to say.

Out of desperation I began going through my old musings stowed away in various files on this laptop, knowing that I’ve started dozens of pieces and posts that died a quick death, thinking perhaps I could finish something I’d started. And I find this piece that I wrote, over a year ago, before, before I moved to Maine, before I spent a season working on a farm. It seems I abandoned it, but re-reading it now, it’s better than anything I’ve got in my brain.  And so I’ll post it, unedited, because it’s still true, and hope that it will inspire me to get crackin’.

Ellms’ Farm
I’ve spent the past few years getting to know farmers, working in their fields, traveling around and asking questions, writing stories, reading books, getting as intimately involved as I could, short of committing myself to one farm and one project. I travel around like a bit of a hobo, learning about yeoman plows here, heritage cattle breeds there, draft horses here. One morning I’m kneading dough for sourdough bread, another I’m learning to slaughter chickens. I’m picking up bits of knowledge, but in preparation for what? Continue reading

an inspired mind.

Last night, a fellow writer asked if I’d been doing much writing lately.  I had to sheepishly reply that I’ve been doing essentially none.  I’ve always maintained that for me, farm work and writing are the perfect combination, that they balance each other out, that each is better for the existence of other.  I still believe in that balance, and yet the reality is that as soon as I started real farm work, writing fell by the wayside.

A month ago I started working four days a week at Peacemeal Farm, an organic vegetable farm in Dixmont, Maine with 10 acres in cultivation.  After years of dabbling in apple picking, carrot weeding and chicken slaughtering on the farms of various friends in the Hudson Valley, I have to say that it feels darn good to have my hands in the dirt full-time.  (Or at least real world “forty hour work week” full-time)  The trouble is that it was much easier to write as a farm dabbler than it is as a full-time farmhand.  My writing has always been inspired by farms, farmers and food and I naively assumed that as my exposure to those things increased, so would my writing. And yet I’ve written nary a word in the past four weeks.

As I kneel by rows of carrots and beets, scuffle hoe the onions or pot in tomatoes in the greenhouse, my mind swirls with ideas and inspiration.  I’ve become convinced that there’s no better place to think up story ideas than in a field of head lettuce or garlic, and for ten hours a day that’s what I do.  And then I drive home, coated in dirt and sweat and sunscreen, crack a beer and start working on the house and before I know it I’m on my way to work the next day, another essay or book pitch pushed a bit further back in the overstuffed file folder that is my brain.

I am in awe of farmers like my friend Shannon Hayes who just released her third book while still farming full-time at her family’s Sap Bush Hollow Farm.  Honestly, I don’t know how she does it.  I can only hope that one day I’ll figure out what it takes.

For now, I’ll settle for a happily aching body, a well-fed belly and an inspired mind.