A weekly series about our food and sustainable agriculture.
Organic farmer, and former forester, Anthony Boutard, speaks about the meaning to him of his cornfield. Not just during the more active periods of the growing season, but over the dormancy of winter; his cornfields serve as a sanctuary for insects, birds, and other wildlife, helping preserve a vibrant ecosystem that extends beyond just the idea of producing yields of edible corn.
As our nation has advanced over the last century, the percentage of farmers who farm full-time as their principle source of income has dramatically declined, at present, to around 2% of the national population. You may hear politicians, and others boast that we have created a wealth of other (better) employment opportunities, and have largely freed society from the drudgery of farm work. And, largely this is so, as agriculture has become more mechanized, and more industrialized, and farms have grown substantially larger in size, and more singularly specialized in their farm operations.
But as smaller diversified farmers like Boutard show us, even those with keen intellects can be invigorated, and challenged on a daily basis, growing, and marketing their own food, and staying connected with the land, and their local community. Far from being a mundane existence, the active farmer is constantly evolving with the knowledge and experience that nature delivers; selecting seeds over successive harvests that will yield a slightly more flavorful crop, or a more consistent shade of purple corn, or a grain that can be harvested early (green wheat), its seeds burnt in the field to produce a smoky, uniquely tasty grain, known thoughout the Middle East, as Frekih.
It’s possible to imagine, as the cornfield lies dormant in winter, a time for deeper reflection, listening to the wind, and watching life dart in and out through the chilling cold. Knowing, just around the corner, another season will be arriving, perhaps not quite soon enough, or too soon.