Why I Farm

As a farmer, I am part of the dense, varied and vigorous symphony of the prairie, one of the many reasons why I farm.

| February/March 2007

  • Moon
    Taking care of animals involves spending a lot of time outdoors, and offers numerous opportunities to connect with the natural world.
  • Why I Farm
    Beano, Buster and Bryan.
    Photo courtesy NATHAN HAM

  • Moon
  • Why I Farm

Twenty-five years ago I was an enthusiastic hiker and backpacker. A skier and a climber. I probably spent 45 days a year in the outdoors and slept outside five or six nights a year. I lived in a city, and I tried to get into the nearby mountains every chance I had, but it wasn’t much.

These days, I watch the sun come up several times a week. I know what’s blooming and which birds are coming through. I know how it feels to be outside on the worst night of the year watching coyotes try to open the door of the henhouse. Now that I am a farmer, I see much more of nature than I did when I was outdoors purely for recreation. For me, the difference between hiking and farming is the difference between listening to music and playing music. As a hiker, I enjoy the dramatic rhythms and splashy vistas of the mountains. As a farmer, I am part of the dense, varied, vigorous symphony of the prairie.

Raising our Own Meat

I write this during the most bittersweet of our seasons: late fall or early winter, depending on the day and the weather. It’s the time of year when we kill the animals­ — the cattle, sheep and goats — that we raise for meat for ourselves and our friends.

Just a few months ago they were the spirits of spring, filling the pastures with the joyful, bouncing exuberance of new life. In a few weeks their meat will be in my freezers, and my friends’, on our tables and in our bodies.

People often ask, “How can you eat your own animals?” Sometimes it’s a sincere question, meant to explore the emotions associated with raising your own meat. But often it’s more of an accusation, as in: “How can you be so callous?” So in response I might ask, “How can you be so cruel as to eat animals without knowing them? Without knowing how they lived? Without making sure they were treated kindly and with respect?”

My father, both my grandfathers and all my great-grandparents were grass farmers. It’s quite likely that every generation of my family since prehistoric times has followed a herd of grazing animals — either wild or domesticated — through its lifetime and down its nomadic path across the ages. We have always lived in direct contact and in a kind of kinship with the animals that provide our food. I believe it’s a “natural” relationship in the deepest and most profound sense of that word.

8/15/2008 10:27:14 PM

I was a vegetarian for ten years, and have only recently begun consuming more animal products (including pork, chicken and beef raised by my neighbors). I'm slightly embarrassed by some of the critical responses to this article, and think we're squandering an excellent opportunity to have a meaningful conversation about the "cost" of food, be it animal or vegetable. Vegans and vegetarians have always done good work and have boldly taken on the challenge of thinking about the moral and ethical implications of their diet, but I wonder if they (or if any of us) really go far enough? While I often hear meat eaters wrestling with their decision to kill or consume killed animals, most non-meat eaters I know happily graze without much consideration of seasonality, food miles or environmental impacts, at least beyond a mild attachment to the organic label. This lack of ambivalence is troubling. Also, while I agree with Bryan's notion that taking responsibility for death adds life to his life, I'm also troubled by the article's attempt to reconcile the killing, as though it can be thought through once and be done. For me, as I now eat and in some cases kill animals, I am both troubled by this choice AND feel that it is the most responsible and honest life that I've discovered. I'm somewhat reassured and terribly challenged by this quote from Wendell Berry, referenced in the recent "Chicken Harvest" article: “To live, we must daily break the body and shed the blood of creation. When we do it knowingly, lovingly, skillfully, reverently, it is a sacrament. When we do it ignorantly, greedily, destructively, it is a desecration.” I would very much appreciate a turning of the tables here - why don't we all comment on what is most ethically challenging about the eating life WE'VE chosen? Don't know, can't say? You haven't thought hard enough. Thanks for a thought provoking essay, Bryan.

8/12/2008 3:36:57 PM

Thanks, Kevin. - Bryan

8/12/2008 11:58:24 AM

I enjoyed your article Bryan. I would have to agree with you that knowing how the animals that supply our meat are treated is an important thing for us to consider. We should show respect for any living creation, be it animal or plant, but all things are put here for a purpose. We don’t condemn the wolf for eating the dear for that is all apart of nature. So many of the comments to you bewilder me. Not that I do not understand their viewpoint but when you compare eating meat from a cow to eating your mother or college roommate that leaves me scratching my head. Thanks for a very insightful article.


Fermentation Frenzy!

September 12-13, 2019
Seven Springs, Pa

Fermentation Frenzy! is produced by Fermentation magazine in conjunction with the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR. This one-and-a-half day event is jam-packed with fun and informative hands-on sessions.


Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 64% Off the Cover Price

Money-Saving Tips in Every Issue!

Mother Earth NewsAt MOTHER EARTH NEWS, we are dedicated to conserving our planet's natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. You'll find tips for slashing heating bills, growing fresh, natural produce at home, and more. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.95 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.95 for 6 issues.

Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
International Subscribers - Click Here
Canadian subscriptions: 1 year (includes postage & GST).

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter flipboard

Free Product Information Classifieds Newsletters

click me