The Uncertainty of Farming – It’s All Inherently Impermanent

This article on the uncertainty of farming is by Joshua Bardwell, edited from the article Inherently Impermanent originally posted in June 2010 at Jack-Booted Liberal

Gardening is filled with such extremes of emotion for me. Successes really fill me with joy…

First batch of cucumber pickles is sitting in the fridge…

Yellow squash and zucchini are producing really a ridiculous amount of fruit. Say what you will, you can always rely on squash to outgrow your garden beds and outproduce everything else on the planet. It’s too bad that, somehow, I ended up with about four yellow squash plants to every one zucchini. Zucchini is really much more delicious IMO, especially breaded and fried.

The butternuts are starting to set fruit. It’ll be a loooong time before they’re ready to harvest, but it’s still nice to see.

But then the setbacks just crush me. We had a big windstorm roll through yesterday and then again today. Just amazing gusts of wind knocking tree limbs down and damn near capsizing our baby walnut tree.

The corn got mowed down. I’m leaving it alone to see if it manages to recover. The roots seem to be mostly intact and the stalks, for the most part, don’t seem to be broken, but it’s just heartbreaking.

And then there’s some kind of fungal disease or another eating at and rotting away at least some of damn near all my plants. I swear, sometimes I want a do-over so bad. As if next time I’ll get it exactly right. But of course, that’s not how it’ll go. Next time there’ll be some other problem to solve.

The uncertainty of farming, homesteading, and gardening is so different from what we're used to in our modern lives.A lot of energy in modern life is spent trying to get rid of undesirable outcomes. Really, most of you readers, and myself of course, live in an extravagantly refined environment that nearly-instantly caters to our every whim. Temperature and humidity are controlled. Food of any sort is at our reach, whether it’s a frozen treat, a cold glass of milk, a bowl of cereal, or a tropical fruit. Want to see a movie or talk to a friend? Television, cell phones, home entertainment systems, and the Internet are here to serve.

From this perspective, the unpredictably catastrophic nature of farming is completely alien—which is not to say that the same, “cater-to-your-whim,” attitude doesn’t exist in agriculture. For every fungus or insect you don’t like, there’s a chemical from Dow or Monsanto to treat it, but in trying to garden simply and organically, I’ve decided to try other approaches first.

And so I accept that, maybe, despite my best efforts, I’m going to lose every stick of corn I planted to a wind-storm. Maybe that harvest of beans was the last one before fungus turns the plants to mush and I have to pull them out of the beds and burn them to keep the spores from propagating in the compost heap. Maybe I won’t get a single tomato because they’ll all get blossom end rot or early blight or who-the-hell-knows-what other of the thousands of maladies that can afflict a tomato plant. And you know what else? Maybe my house doesn’t have to be 72 degrees 24-hours a day (well, it’s not, because we’ve decided not to use central air).

This outlook seems very consistent with my participation in [Burning Man culture]. We build an enormous effigy every year only to light it on fire and burn it to the ground, and I see that as an incredibly subversive act in a world that attempts to preserve everything—youth, money, status, possessions—indefinitely. It’s not wanton destruction to me. It’s a statement that nothing in the world is permanent, and the things that we value most can be taken away by sheer chance, without our consent or participation or culpability, and that’s okay. It has to be okay, because it IS. And acting as if what IS is not is a sure way to bad outcomes.

The uncertainty of farming, homesteading, and gardening is so different from what we're used to in our modern lives.