Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
“Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.”
It seems that when it’s time to go about reflecting on life as a farmer and modern-day homesteader, my mind wonders to the dreamy romanticism of the things on the farm that have very little to do with planting, hoeing, harvesting and washing. Instead, I get caught up in that all-consuming thought that so much of our toil and digging is wasted. Rather than worrying about pesky thoughts of debt and drought and diseases on the tomato vine, it might be easier (and superior) to spend my time letting the land feed us with what it already produces.
That means wild edibles, which I whole-heartedly pursue. Wild edibles include the plants all around us, but also the moving animal creatures with which we share our lands. I include in this mix the small and important farm pond, which houses a diverse array of fish species.
In this place (West Missouri), the available fish are those freshwater creatures very few have written about in the poetic sense. This is not the coolwater Country of Trout, nor is it part of Salmon Nation. This is not a tidal zone full of bivalves and crustaceans we can harvest readily.
Instead, with practice and diligence, we can spend our time filling the live-well with bass, with catfish, with perch, with crappie. It is this last species that my family has long pursued as the preferable fish of choice (perhaps other than the spring run of walleye). For us, crappie fishing is a very important touchstone in living a pleasurable life. Crappie eating sustains the family campfire of story and memory and dreaming.
Coming back to agriculture and the farming life, I think every farmer should spend time as a fisherperson. If that were the case, I have a hard time believing Industrial Agriculture would have ever taken its foothold. Manure runs downhill as they say, as does the polluting chemicals of conventional row crop production.
When you spend time on the water attempting to catch your dinner, you think about such things. You think about how your land management decisions impact the waterways downstream. You think about what flows from your farm. And you get the time to reflect on putting it all together.
So if you’re a farmer, my advice to you is to occasionally pick up a fishing rod and sharpen your filet knife. Catch some fish downstream of your farm. Clean your catch and eat it heartily. And while you’re doing the enjoyable tasks of harvesting and preparing your dinner, the thoughts of how you farm are sure to be in front of you.
Bryce Oates is a farmer, father, writer and rural economic development entrepreneur. He works with his family to raise organic vegetables, beef, lamb, chickens, goats and manage the bottomland forest woodlot in Western Missouri. He has helped to launch numerous social enterprises including a sustainable wood processing cooperative, a dairy goat cheese processing facility and a conservation-based land management company that incentivizes carbon sequestration in forests and grasslands. Bryce currently co-owns the Root Cellar Grocery in Downtown Columbia, Missouri, where the local food store operates a weekly produce subscription program, the Missouri Bounty Box. Bryce, along with 135 other farmers, sells his produce through this program.