5 Writers Who Farmed - Modern Farmer

5 Writers Who Farmed

5 writers who wrote and farmed.

Wendell Berry

1. Wendell Berry

Much of Wendell Berry’s inspiration comes from his Kentucky farm, which has been in his family for more than 200 years. Berry has been an outspoken champion of land stewardship and has campaigned against what he considers “bad farming” for many years.

Berry has said, “The world and our life in it are conditional gifts. We have the world to live in, and the use of it to live from, on the condition that we will take good care of it. And to take good care of it we have to know it and we have to know how to take care of it. And to know, and to be willing to take care of it, we have to love it. And we’ve ignored all that.”

Recommended Reading: The Mad Farmer Poems

“Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.” — “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front” from Mad Farmer Poems

2. E.B. White

E.B. White’s children’s book Charlotte’s Web has delighted children for more than 60 years, but not everyone knows that the story was inspired by a spider in White’s own barn. White suffered from anxiety throughout his life and found comfort in the presence of animals. He said, “I like animals, and my barn is a pleasant place to be, at all hours!”

White split his time between New York, where he was a regular contributor to The New Yorker, and his farm in Maine, where he died in 1985.

Recommended Reading: Essays of E.B. White by E.B. White and The Story of Charlotte’s Web by Michael Sims

“One never knows what images one is going to hold in memory, returning to the city after a brief orgy in the country. I find this morning that what I most vividly and longingly recall is the sight of my grandson and his little sunburnt sister returning to their kitchen door from an excursion, with trophies of the meadow clutched in their hands, she with a couple of violets, smiling, he serious and holding dandelions, strangling them in a responsible grip. Children hold spring so tightly in their brown fists — just as grownups, who are less sure of it, hold it in their hearts.” — “A Report in Spring” from Essays of E.B. White

3. Barbara Kingsolver

In 2005, Barbara Kingsolver moved her family to a farm in Virginia to attempt a locavore experiment. They grew their own vegetables, harvested animals, ate seasonally and preserved their harvest. She chronicled their trials in the book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, which includes insights from her ornithologist husband, Steven L. Hopp, and her daughter, Camille. Kingsolver holds a Masters degree in Ecology and has also published short stories, novels and poems.

She continues to reside on her farm in Virginia.

Recommended Reading: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver

“When we traded homemaking for careers, we were implicitly promised economic independence and worldly influence. But a devil of a bargain it has turned out to be in terms of daily life. We gave up the aroma of warm bread rising, the measured pace of nurturing routines, the creative task of molding our families’ tastes and zest for life; we received in exchange the minivan and the Lunchable.” — Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver

4. Julene Bair

As a student in the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, Julene Bair thought she would write about the time she spent in San Francisco or her life in the Mojave Desert. But when she sat down to write, it was the stories of growing up in rural Kansas that flowed from her fingertips. These stories became One Degree West: Reflections of a Plainsdaughter. In her latest book, The Ogallala Road: A Memoir of Love and Reckoning, she reflects on her time farming alongside her dad before she became a mother.

Blair no longer farms but has become an active voice in the protection and preservation of the Ogallala Aquifer.

Recommended Reading: The Ogallala Road: A Memoir of Love and Reckoning

“In the shop, breathing the scent of dusty grease and oil; in the old house, staring into the living room where Dad and Jake used to take naps together on the couch; in the sheep barn, remembering the joy implicit in so much baaing life; in every inch of the farm, I recalled my father’s presence.” — The Ogallala Road: A Memoir of Love and Reckoning by Julene Bair

5. Emily Dickinson

In her time, Emily Dickinson was better known for flowers than poems. She was an avid gardener from childhood on and at the age of 11 wrote to a friend, “My Plants grow beautifully.” Her father built a conservatory on their homestead in Amherst, Massachusetts, which allowed Dickinson to grow flowers year-round. Her poems often reference her flowers, the weather, populations of pollinators and changes in seasons — all things a good gardener must be attuned to.

Dickinson studied botany throughout her life and created a herbarium of pressed flowers with more than 400 specimens.

Recommended Reading: Final Harvest: Emily Dickinson’s Poems by Emily Dickinson and Emily Dickinson’s Gardens: A Celebration of a Poet and Gardener by Marta McDowell

“There is a flower that bees prefer,
And butterflies desire;
To gain the purple democrat
The humming-birds aspire.”
-“LXVI,” Emily Dickinson

Photo courtesy Guy Mendes/40/40: Forty Years, Forty Portraits/Institute 193

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