What I’ve learned from living on a farm

Small-scale organic farming in developing foreign countries is not exactly ideal professional development material.  It’s true that the real world applications are not always immediately visible, especially for someone like myself for whom farming was never really a career consideration.  This is of course not to say that my time here hasn’t been reaping benefits.

Concerning food:

  • I’ll never shop at a supermarket in the same way. Growing up in America, it’s easy to think that all food is vacuum-sealed, anti-bacterial, pasteurized, processed, and packaged.  And, that all that manhandling is necessary for food to be safe, healthy, edible.  Here on the farm you can’t escape the reality that food comes from the earth.  Milk comes from a real living organism and you don’t choose its fat content.  Bread is made with flour which is ground from wheat which is grown in fields which are sprayed with slurry.  Cheese is bacteria.  
  • Small scale farming is more economically, environmentally, and socially sustainable than industrial farming.  Purchasing foodstuffs from local producers is not the cheapest choice in the short view.  In the long view, though, the extra dollars spent on locally produced, ideally organic, products goes further towards keeping the earth in good working condition, supporting hard working families and the communities in which they live and work.  Industrial farming may make grocery shopping easier on our individual pocketbooks, but the government subsidies required to maintain the system and the irresponsible way these corporations treat the land are not sustainable.
  • Meat is expensive and unnecessary.  Seeing how much it takes to fatten a calve versus tend a garden, makes me question the centrality of meat in my diet.  Also, not eating it much, I haven’t really missed it.  (We did feast on pork knuckle, boar steak, and pig’s neck in Plock yesterday, though, and it was mighty tasty.)

Concerning labor:

  • Work never stops.  Weekends and evenings are nice ways to organize our lives.  The reality, though, is that while we rest the world doesn’t  I’m very aware of this on the farm as the goats continue bleeting and composting continues steaming even on Sunday.  It’s not too far of a leap to translate goats and compost to a 9-5 application.
  • It’s much easier to complete a task when you understand and value the whole to which it is contributing.  Milking a cow, making cheese, milling flour, baking bread: the rewards are immediate.  Making “mountains” of hay, moving trailers, cleaning silos: not so much.  Nevertheless, I trust that Peter with all his knowledge of bio-dynamics understands how all the pieces fit together.
  • Poland was the first country to leave the Soviet Bloc in 1989 and it’s evident how hard they’ve worked to build-up social organizations for themselves that previously had been provided by the government.  In America, I think we too often fail to recognize how our, even modest, contributions of finances and labor to community organizations of value are essential to their perpetuation.

In sum, after living on a farm, I don’t feel the call to start a farm.  I do know, however, that I will live in the world differently after this experience.

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  1. i know i’m a few weeks late posting for this… i’m catching up on your time in Poland this morning.

    I am in the middle of reading Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma right now and I am really struggling with the concept of meat. Every time I really think about it, I decide that I should become a vegetarian, or perhaps even a vegan, but then I get more realistic and decide to become a non-crueltyavore (only meat that has been treated humanely and not treated with hormones, etc). I still get stuck on the point that even the most humanely raised animal is still slaughtered, and there is NO way I could do that. How can ask someone else to kill an animal for me if I’m not willing to do it myself. I’m still not sure what the answer is. I would be interested in chatting with you about this after your experience with relative meatlessness and based on Pollan’s book.

    1. I’m with you on this, Colin. I think the main problem is that meat, especially in America, has become so undervalued that we are no longer aware of its actual costs (environmental, ethical, economic). If the actual costs of what it takes to produce meat were reflected in the supermarket price, I think most of us would be cutting way down on our meat consumption.

      (Incidentally, I’m writing this from somewhere in Lithuania, on the Lux Express bus en route to Riga. Very posh.)

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