If I am ever asked for highlights of my “career” I will answer unhesitatingly that one of them was how my book, Holy Shit, became a textbook in a university. The book was not used in an ag course, as one might expect, but for a course in anthropology and sociology. This is the sort of thing I have most wanted to see happen as a writer: recognition that food production is not just of prime concern to agriculture and farmers, but to social science and human culture as well. The intrepid professor involved is Dr. James William Jordan at Longwood University in Virginia. His course, Anthropology/Sociology 322, is titled “Sustainability: Prehistoric, Colonial, and Contemporary People On the Northern Neck of Virginia.” That’s him in the photo with his grandson, Jack, on his daughter and son-in-law’s farm, helping with the farm work. I shake your hand from afar, Jim Jordan, and bow to you.
I found out about him and his course from his son-in-law, Brent Wills, who visited us recently. Dr. Jordan is at the moment teaching a course in archeology in England and I hope to interview him when he gets back. I asked him, through his daughter, Anna Wills (that’s her with the blacksnake in the other photo). “My students don’t need any more theories or hypothesis. They need more real life and that’s what Holy Shit is about.”
That’s what Brent and Anna are all about too. They make a good example of the new kind of farm selling produce directly to consumers and to restaurants and selling home-produced meats and other products through its own CSA. Brent brought us some of his sausage and bologna and it is delicious. He and Anna have two small children, Jack and Marren, who are learning the ways of farm life, like dealing with blacksnakes. The family finds time (I don’t see how) to make and sell wild raspberry wine and artisanal breads. But I don’t need to describe their operation here. You can find it at http://www.bramblehollowfarm.com. On top of that, Brent is a practicing soil consultant with Brookside Labs.
When he visited, he regaled us with some great stories about their farming. In one of them, Anna captured a big blacksnake that was eating their turkey chicks. Brent was describing this to me in a rather matter-of-fact tone, as if everyone has a wife who is not afraid to wrestle snakes, and when I interrupted him with amazed exclamation points, he promised that Anna would send proof. She did, but I believed him anyway. A professor who has the brass to use “Holy Shit” as a textbook would surely be likely to have a daughter who can handle blacksnakes.
The Wills couple and Jim Jordan give me great hope as we skid and slide into a new year. Things are looking up, I tell you. Bramble Hollow Farm is one of many thousands getting established in the local food movement, with more on the way. We have reached the point in history when the front lines of farming are moving away from the big industrial operations despite their array of gigantic farm machinery and advanced genetic engineering (or because of it). The sons and daughters of the large scale farmers who shaped the age of Big Ag will become executives and foremen of huge agribusiness enterprises owned and controlled by the likes of Monsanto, Cargill, John Deere, Dow, etc. The new pioneer farmers will be the ones who are farming like the Wills family. I say that not to put down big corporate farmers who will probably go on growing “crops” for fuel and other mass market industrial products. But I have a huge hunch that the future in food production (and many other artful human enterprises) is moving toward more decentralization and localization. Wouldn’t it be something to live in an era when every town and village has its own honored food farmers as well as its own revered artists, artisans, musicians, writers, restaurateurs and educators? I think we may be closer to that already than we realize. My goodness, we may even reach a time so advanced that National Public Radio will allow its commentators to say holy shit on the air, at least when it is the title of a book.