I recently read Kristin Kimball’s latest book, Good Husbandry. It’s a follow-up to her bestselling first memoir, The Dirty Life. Both volumes chronicle life on the farm that she owns and operates with her husband, Mark, and their two young daughters.
Kimball’s narrative draws the reader deeply into her world of giant draft horses, homemade sauerkraut, broody hens, and compost piles. I grew up in the production agriculture industry and am raising my own kids in it, but her farm world is much more radical than anything I have ever known.
I remained fascinated by Kimball’s descriptions of the work and the land throughout the book, and I respected her dedication to her chosen lifestyle. I balked when she called it “sustainable” farming, though. Using horse-drawn farm implements and recycling livestock manure and decaying plants back into the soil to nourish the following year’s crops is environmentally friendly, but it is not sustainable as in “able to meet the demands of the world’s population for food and fiber.”
The renaissance of farm-to-table businesses is rewarding to the small subset who grow and purchase food in this manner, but it is not practical on a large scale. Organic food is too susceptible to disease to be reliably produced on a large enough scale to feed and clothe the world’s population. It also commands a premium price that is too high for much of the population to afford.
I enjoy homegrown businesses, and I support their continued existence. We need to remember what they are, though: A niche market for those who can afford the luxury of close kinship with their food and fiber sources. For the rest of us, there’s conventional agriculture powered by diesel tractors and store-bought fertilizer.