“Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.”
--A quote from my homesteading homeboy, H. D. Thoreau
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.
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.
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
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.
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.