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The Shallow Insistence

by Lynn Miller

There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty.

– John Adams

A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone.

– Henry David Thoreau

How can you govern a country which has 246 varieties of cheese?

– Charles De Gaulle

There are melodies so evocative they would melt any attached words. There are images so powerful they might negate explanation. There are working rythmns which fly well beyond the vocational titles we give them. Those powerful melodies, images and vocations; all of them deep and rooted now in the human pysche. None of this has to do with good or bad, it is just so. And that has been for most of mankind’s modern days, these last five centuries. But then the shallow insistence snuck up on us and we have fallen down or are falling to our lesser selves.

The shallow insistence, the casual impatience, the convenience imperative, the lazy demands – whatever we call them or it – it has us in its grip. Today I hear of a man who says he quits his farm dream because you and I are unwilling and/or unable to tell him the simple secrets to how a comfortable living might be made without too much work, without too great an investment, without disappointment. He has insisted we give him the guaranteed plan. He casually says he’s not going to waste any more time on dreaming. He demands for himself a life without so much hard work. He says to us that those powerful melodies, images and vocations are all a thing of the past – or never existed at all. He says of us we are charlatans for hard-selling the agrarian life as a dream come true when all it is is misery, disappointment, hard work and poverty.

And I’m supposed to stand chastised and humbled because I dare to edit a publication which champions such a boondoggle? To defend our efforts against the shallow insistence tires me to the bone. There is no boondoggle UNLESS you see it as such. There are no answers, no guarantees, no sure-fire plans. Some of us will never make successful farmers, regardless of what criteria or definition you use to measure success. And some of us will continue to succeed no matter how poorly we are doing. If you see it won’t work, it won’t work. If you see it as the effort you want to make, it is already working. I’d much rather be home farming than in here defending music, art and hard work.


Expansive. Crystal clear summer midday. On the porch with daughter- made grilled turkey pepperoncini, cheese and mustard sandwich, limeade the chaser. The Italianeate shadows, cropedges – under trees and livestock – off the buildings – look as the sandwich tastes, thick with flavors and colors. Just in for a break from the field. It’s one of those days when most every bird is lazy-happy to be alive and somersaulting insects delude themselves into believing their lives will be long. Watch as old saddle horse saunters towards shade tree, head swinging low and slow on her long neck while tail does double time across the itchy hips. Puffy white clouds pass on parade, their pace matching the bird snores, the mare’s saunter, the insect somersaults and my sandwich party. Will be returning shortly to the field work. Glad for it. Glad to know what to do, to have it to do, to feel it working on me as well. I feel expansive and in the expanse of my good life, all of the moment and moments.

Back and forth across the field, walking speed, able to rest with thoughts instead of wrestling with them. No way to hurry this process. The time spent working this field gives me an acceptance quite above patience. No insistence, nothing shallow. Feels like I’m riding the day, and I am oh so happy for it. When I have completed this procedure I will have visited with my eyes every square inch of this field’s top side. Not to say I will know or understand it completely because that will take several lifetimes.

“Oh, you farmer you.”

As a young man I was prescient… I knew I wanted to be a farmer and an artist. Nothing else filled my imagination. And all during those growing up years, a half century ago, I was constantly warned that my choices were unwise. That neither art nor farming would grant me much in the way of security and wealth. It would be a slow life, hand-to-mouth, and one with very little prestige. So, wize guy that I have always been, I asked ‘what’s so wrong with slow? And ‘hand-to-mouth’ sounds pretty good to me – are you suggesting it should be ‘foot to mouth’ or ‘butler to mouth’, or heaven forbid ‘syringe to blood stream’? I know you mean that it likely will be tough and I’ll have to work for each meal. But again I say, so?’


Some of you will feel these words incorrectly as some sort of taunt. I’m sorry if that is the case, because that is not what is meant in the sharing. I have heard it said of me that ‘yah sure, he’s farming, but it’s because he had the money to get a start.’ Nope, not so. Started out poor as a church mouse but just as courageous and silly. And I’ve heard it said, “he’s not a very good farmer, always behind in his work.” To which I respond – yes, that’s certainly true but it is as much by choice as by happenstance. I do take the time occasionally to put this magazine together, and to paint pictures, and to do things with my family and friends. So the farming hasn’t always got the full measure of time it cries for BUT it has always received from me the fullest measure of my passion, ease, comfort, anxiety and thoughtfulness. But then I’m not normal in any measureable way. I am different from most other folks I know who choose to farm. We are all different, all individual.

Yet, the wider public has a definite sense of what it means to be a ‘farmer’, to be that character that says ‘farmer’. And that sense is ripe with contradictions. They see us as hardworking and slow witted, they see as essential and replaceable, they see us as highly skilled and uneducated, they see us as courageous and insulated, they see us as poor and lucky, they see us as trustworthy yet sneaky, they see us as alchemists and as luddites, they see us as agronomists and gamblers, they see us as religious and heathen but mostly they see us as unfortunate.

What is it about us? I was in the auto parts store today trying to get a couple of spark plug wires for an old Wisconsin-model baler engine. I took the originals in with me, learned long ago I had to do that otherwise they would argue when I described the parts. They say things like “ain’t no such wire, not like that any ways.” So I took in the offending wires and plopped them down on the counter. There they were big as life, no arguing with that. The two guys took a look at them, fingered them and then rolled their eyes in reverse unison. “What are these off of anyway?” So I tell them and the owner says, “better take him back there and show him what we got on the rack.”

We discover that they truly don’t have anything quite like my old wires so they decide they will sell me the parts and pieces to assemble. The hired man says, “don’t know how to put them together, never seen it done” to which the store owner says, in a voice meant for every other customer to hear “Just give him the parts, he can put it all together, he’s a farmer.” Somehow the tone of voice had the sour harmony of a history professor’s referencing of some idiot neanderthal tribe’s self sufficiency skills. So I pipe up and say “Maybe you should put a sign on the door says no farmers need apply.” And he mumbles looking down and says “no, no, it’s not like that…” because times are tough and every customer is essential and he knows now is not the time to pick a fight with a paying customer let alone a ‘farmer’. And I think ‘wait a minute, it was all meant in jest. Let’s lighten up here.’ But I don’t say it out loud because these times beg of us to play sweetly the pipes of the civility organ. So we part company in full and quiet disagreement, uneasiness at the core. is a live, ever-changing subscription website. To gain access to all the content on this site, subscribe for just $5 per month. If you are not completely satisfied, cancel at any time. Here at your own convenience you can access past articles from Small Farmer's Journal's first forty years and all of the brand new content of new issues. You will also find posts of complete equipment manuals, a wide assortment of valuable ads, a vibrant events calendar, and up to the minute small farm news bulletins. The site features weather forecasts for your own area, moon phase calendaring for farm decisions, recipes, and loads of miscellaneous information.

Spotlight On: Crops & Soil

Cultivating Questions

Cultivating Questions: Concerning the Bioextensive Market Garden

One of our goals when we first started farming here was to develop the farm as a self-contained nutrient system. Unlike the almost complete recycling of nutrients which can take place on a livestock operation, we are always amazed – even a little disturbed – to see how many tons of fertility and organic matter leave the market garden each year with so little returned to the good earth.

Walki Biodegradable Mulching Paper

New Biodegradable Mulching Paper

Views of any and all modern farming stir questions for me. The most common wonder for me has been ‘how come we haven’t come up with a something to replace plastic?’ It’s used for cold frames, hotbeds, greenhouses, silage and haylage bagging and it is used for mulch. That’s why when I read of this new Swedish innovation in specialized paper mulching I got the itch to scratch and learn more. What follows is what we know. We’d like to know more. LRM

On-Farm Meat Processing

The demand for fresh, local meat products – with no taint of industrial process – is absolutely staggering.

Raised Bed Gardening

Raised Bed Gardening

from issue:

Raised beds may not be right for everyone, and our way is not the only way. I have seen raised beds made from rows of 5’ diameter kiddy pools, and heard of a fellow who collected junk refrigerators from the dump and lined them up on their backs into a rainbow of colored enameled steel raised beds. Even rows of five-gallon pails filled with plants count as raised beds in my estimation. Do it any way you care to, but do it if it’s right for you.

Farm Manure

Farm Manure

Naturally there is great variation in manure according to the animals it is made by, the feeding and bedding material, and the manner in which it is kept. Different analyses naturally shows different results and the tables here given serve only as a guide or index to the various kinds. The manure heap, by the way, is no place for old tin cans, bottles, glass, and other similar waste material.

Henpecked Compost and U-Mix Potting Soil

We have hesitated to go public with our potting mix, not because the formula is top secret, but because our greenhouse experience is limited in years and scale. Nevertheless, we would like to offer what we have learned in hopes of showing that something as seemingly insignificant as putting together a potting mix can be integrated into a systems approach to farming.

Ginseng Culture

Ginseng Culture

U.S. Department of Agriculture Farmer’s Bulletin No. 1184 Issued 1921, Revised 1941 — The evident preference of the Chinese for the wild root and the unsatisfactory state of the general market for cultivated ginseng have caused grave doubts as to the future prospects of the industry. These doubts will probably be realized unless growers should strive for quality of product and not for quantity of production, as has been the all too common practice in the past.

Open-Pollinated Corn at Spruce Run Farm

Open-Pollinated Corn at Spruce Run Farm

from issue:

The old way of selecting seed from open-pollinated corn involved selecting the best ears from the poorest ground. I have tried to select perfect ears based on the open-pollinated seed corn standards of the past. I learned these standards from old agricultural texts. The chosen ears of Reid’s average from 9 to 10.5 inches long and have smooth, well-formed grains in straight rows. I try to select ears with grains that extend to the end of the cob.

Cultivating Questions Ridge-Till Revisited

Cultivating Questions: Ridge-Till Revisited

Delay ridge building until early fall so that the cover crop on the ridge does not grow more than 12” tall before winter. The residues from a short cover crop will be much less challenging to cultivate than a tall stand of oats, especially if tangly field peas are mixed in. Waiting for the winterkilled cover crop residues to breakdown as long as possible before ridge-tilling in the spring will also make cultivation much easier until you gain familiarity with the system.

An Introduction To Farm Woodlands

The farm woodland is that portion of the farm which either never was cleared for tillage or pasture, or was later given back to woods growth. Thus it occupies land that never was considered suitable, or later proved unsuitable, for farm enterprises.

Rice as a New Staple Crop for Very Cold Climates

Rice as a New Staple Crop for Very Cold Climates

by: ,
from issue:

If you were visiting Earth from some other planet and had to describe its inhabitants upon your return, you might say that the average person eats rice, and grows it as well, usually on a small scale. You’d be accurately describing the habits of over a quarter of the world’s population. Rice has a special story with an exciting chapter now unfolding in the northeast USA among a small but growing group of farmers and growers.

Carrots and Beets The Roots of Our Garden

Carrots & Beets – The Roots of Our Garden

from issue:

Carrots and beets are some of the vegetables that are easy to kill with kindness. They’re little gluttons for space and nutrients, and must be handled with an iron fist to make them grow straight and strong. Give the buggers no slack at all! Your motto should be – “If in doubt, yank it out!” I pinch out a finger full (maybe 3/4” wide) and skip a finger width. Pinch and skip, pinch and skip, working with existing gaps and rooting out particularly thick clumps.



from issue:

Cabbage is the most important vegetable commercially of the cole crops, which include cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, kohlrabi, collard, broccoli, and many others. It also ranks as one of the most important of all vegetable crops and is universally cultivated as a garden, truck and general farm crop. The market for cabbage, like that for potatoes, is continuous throughout the year, and this tends to make it one of the staple vegetables.

Purslane, Portahoopies and Plow Planted Peas

Purslane, Portahoopies and Plow Planted Peas

For those not familiar with this tasty, nutritious weed, purslane can be a real challenge to manage in vegetable crops for a number of reasons. The seeds of this weed remain viable for many years in the garden, and generally do not germinate until hot weather — that is, after many of the market garden crops have already been planted. To make matters worse, this succulent plant often reroots after cultivation. Purslane also grows so close to the ground that it is impossible to control by mowing.

Wild Potatoes and Calcium

Wild potatoes bring increased calcium for better tubers.Have you ever cut into a potato to find a dark spot or hollow part? Early research shows that these defects are likely the result of calcium deficiencies in the potato — and that tuber calcium is genetically linked to tuber quality.

Cultivating Questions Winterkilled Cover Crops for a Mild Climate Part 2

Cultivating Questions: Winterkilled Cover Crops For A Mild Climate Part 2

Finding just the right cover crop-tillage combination for crops planted the last half of June has always been a real challenge in our location. While surface-tilling mature rye and vetch in May works well for fall crops established in July and August, this cover crop-tillage combo does not allow enough time for decomposition and moisture accumulation for end-of-June plantings.

Planting Calendar and Other Diagrams

From Dusty Shelves: A 1943 calendar for seeding your vegetable garden.

Journal Guide