Firefly Dusks And Chick Days: The Farmer General Chats With Jenna Woginrich
Posted on April 9th, 2011
Farmer, shepherd, author, blogger, banjo frailer, fiddler-player, and graphic designer–Jenna Woginrich is one busy lady. Which makes us all the more excited that she took time away from her farm to answer a few of our questions. I’ve been eagerly reading her words since the publication of Made From Scratch, and following the growth of her flock at Cold Antler Farm during her first lambing season. Jenna’s wry honesty and passion for her land are the perfect antidote to a long winter of inactivity–as well as inspiration to get out and to get busy with the business of growing your own food.
FG: We know, from following your blog and reading your first book, Made From Scratch, that you’ve lived in a lot of places, and traveled across the country. How has your sense of place shifted, do you think, since you’ve started farming? What is different about your personal sense of geography now, working the land that you live on, as opposed to your sense of it when you were traveling, or, backyard gardening?
JW: My location has certainly changed a lot, but my sense of place is pretty consistent. Get some raised beds, chicken coops, rabbit hutches, and some livestock and I am home. I have raised animals all over America and it was just as exciting installing honey bees in Idaho as it was in Vermont or New York. But I can say that there’s a comfort to being back in the Northeast. This is my home: humidity, snowstorms, fireflies, thunder showers, ice and cold streams. I’ve lived along the northern Appalachians my entire life (save for a year in the southern and one out west). My mountainside farm is where I belong, but like I said, I could be content anywhere green and hilly.
FG: Do you think that the current fascination with farms and farming is in concert with, or at odds against, some of the original tenets of the ‘American Dream’? i.e., we long for a connection to our land, and our foodsources, but, are still conditioned to seek that end-game of ‘making it big’. Is ‘making it big’ still the goal, or, can farming be successful without growing beyond the backyard?
JW: I think independence in general is the American Dream. For some it means their own apartment, and for others it means an off-grid homestead with a giant garden and livestock. People are starting to realize they can bring the livestock to their apartments, and that created the current fascination! With the rising popularity of Backyard Chickens and hutched meat rabbits (as well as gardens, vermicomposting, etc) folks are starting to bring that pioneer independence coursing through us all to their urban and suburban lives. It’s quite the renaissance!
FG: And, to continue question 2, in your wildest dreams, what do you hope the future of farming looks like, in America?
JW: Smaller, diversified, and closer to their markets. This petro-fueled system is pretty unsustainable and as gas prices soar people will be shopping more and more at their local farms and markets. You might think those heirloom tomatoes are expensive at $3.99 a pound at your town’s open-air summer market but just wait til the hybrids at Wallmart are $5.99 a pound because gas is 8 dollars a gallon! I hope for a system that uses all the technology and logic of the modern world with an older mentality of doing things: a return to polyculture.
FG: Do you find it hard to transition between your two worlds, at times–moving from the ‘I needed that yesterday’ world of online business, to the slower, more measured and patience-seeking pace of farming? Is it a relief? (we love that you encourage people to start small, and to do what they can, which is something that makes farming, and the concept of it, feel accessible to a wider audience than those who are ready to chuck everything aside and buy 15 acres).
JW: It’s not hard at all. My balance of office life and farm life isn’t as drastic as folks might think. I work for an outdoor fishing and hunting company that welcomes dogs, laughter, walks outside and is in the middle of the woods in Vermont. My farm is just a twenty-minute drive away and I can run home on my lunch hour if I need to check on lambs or adjust heat lamps in the chick brooder. And I appreciate the two worlds working together. I can never really get tired of either with the split life I lead. Farming is always a blessing to come home to, and the office is so many friends and social events I wouldn’t get if I worked at home. That all said: you certainly do not need 15 acres and a draft horse to start taking care of your own food and soil. Get a kitchentop composter, some container gardens, and a hutch of rabbits. You could be making 4-star dinners in your Cleveland apartment without an inch of grass. It’s all about your intentions and determination, not your location.
FG: What is your favorite moment of the day on the farm? (perhaps seasonally–I’m sure the pleasures of summer are different from the ones of winter!)
JW: A later-summer dusk. That crisp time of year right before fall when the garden has been watered, the chickens are scratching near their roosts, the sheep are laying down to chew their cud and all I need to do is crack open a hard cider and get a blanket, fiddle, and a book.
FG: Farmer’s markets–yea or nay? What do they do right? What might they do differently?
I think most markets position themselves too far outside of town and cater too much to one scene. It doesn’t have to be the acoustic guitar and banjo on the outskirts of town, bring the market to a busy sidewalk and play some Ramones!