What I wanted to be when I grew up

I have an egg carton of lettuce, zucchini, and sweet pepper seeds growing on the window sill.  And I have a couple heirloom tomato plants coming in April from a local shop.  The early appearance of spring this year kind of rushed me into my vegetable growing.  I barely had time to buy seeds and stick them in dirt-filled egg shells before the trees and tulips started blossoming.  It has been quite a month.  I attended a beekeeping workshop early in March, getting ready for the arrival of our bees in April (!).  And last week I found myself at an urban chicken keeping class in my neighborhood - a bunch of eager and naive chicken enthusiasts trying to figure out how to bring the farm to the city.

What is it with all of the interest in growing and raising and keeping?  There's definitely something in my generation that has us all scrambling for ways to live a new (old) way.  Is it that we've been inundated with so much advancement and technology that we're desperate for something to touch and smell and work for? Have we so separated ourselves from each other and the earth that we can't help but want to raise chickens in our apartments?

It's funny, actually, because when I was little, I told everyone I wanted to be a farmer when I grew up (just ask my parents).  Which was so not cool at the time.  I was supposed to want to be a teacher or a marine biologist.  But farming?  Come on.  I lived in the suburbs of Chicago!  I couldn't help myself.  Every minute I got, I was out in the "woods" behind our house, channeling the spirits of Laura Ingalls Wilder and Jo March.  Then I grew up, grew out of my overalls and beat up Converse shoes, moved, went to school, saw the world.  I had to find a more realistic idea of "what I want to be when I grow up," like "artist" or "writer" is somehow closer to that realism.  After all that, now I find myself somewhat back where I started.  Maybe not exactly "farmer" in the present day sense - unlike my farming friend Al, I don't want the air-conditioned office of a John Deere tractor.  How 'bout just a sustainable farm with a garden, a chicken coop, and a couple beehives?  Maybe trade with neighbors for what we don't have, like the Kingsolver family did in Animal Vegetable Miracle?  I love their story.  I'd be happy with that.  And I love the story of these two unlikely farmers on Long Island - learning to farm and yield an unlikely harvest against all odds.

I know I'm not the only one.  I guess we're all anxious for ways to live more simply, more connected to what we eat and buy and why.  Maybe it's got something to do with our longing for authenticity.  Living in a way that is true, dependable, and whole.

Maybe all the abundance and excess of our cultural habits has us pining for what was.  We have lost some of the beauty of the communal process of cultivating and eating together.

In his eater's manifesto, Michael Pollan writes, "We forget that, historically, people have eaten for a great many reasons other than biological necessity.  Food is also about pleasure, about community, about family and spirituality, about our relationship to the natural world, and about expressing our identity.  As long as humans have been taking meals together, eating has been as much about culture as it has been about biology."


  1. Jess, this was really great to read. I love this movement toward all things being made new where the city and the country are coming together. Your thoughts about old simplicity with a newness to it are right on, it seems to me. You and I have a common growing up experience - I used to say that I wanted to be a farmer and a preacher when I grow up. Maybe you are going to be the farmer - I just can't seem to get out of this preacher business. I love you. Keep writing. Dad

  2. Once again I'm convinced you're destined for WI :) Mike wants chickens too. We're just getting into the raw milk movement and I am grateful to live by many farmers dedicated to integrity of land and animal. Thanks for sharing! Your writing is good for my soul.

  3. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and insights, Jess. It reminds me I'm a part of something larger when I read/hear about my urban friends having the same thoughts as I and my rural neighbors do.