from “The Ground Underneath Us,” one of five new chapters written for the Tenth Anniversary Edition
Ours is a working farm that feeds more than just our family, and employs a few extra hands, especially in summer. This place is not just our domicile, but a piece of ground that is well suited to producing food. It would feel wrong to occupy that kind of land and let it lie fallow. The ethical choice is to manage it for food production in a way that maintains productivity, improves the health of its soils and watershed, and sequesters more carbon than it burns. If we weren’t willing to do this, I think we would need to move out and let somebody else do it.But I’m more than willing. I like putting on my muck boots and traipsing up to the garden in springtime to see what’s come up overnight. When I discover little curve-necked bean sprouts emerging in perfectly even rows, I’m flooded with a warm glow of predictable order imposed on a disorderly planet. It will evaporate as soon as I come back inside and read the newspaper. But that’s part of the deal; hope is a renewable option. Farming is renewal by definition. I love watching the curly-haired lambs the first minute after they’re born as they find their wobbly legs, stand up, and stagger after mama, doggedly bunting a nose against her front legs, back legs, belly, the wall of the paddock, and me—if I’m in there with them—until they finally latch onto the bliss of colostrum and milk. When I pick up these fresh-born creatures they’re damp and surprisingly hot, with little hearts pounding like the engines of life they are. In lambing season we stay close to the barn because sometimes they’ll need help, not just finding the teat but getting through the mortal doorway. I’ve had to deliver stuck lambs, breech lambs, tangled triplets, and revive two or three that were born not breathing. If I had any chance of pausing first to consider whether I knew what I was doing, I would have said, in every case, “heck no!” And any livestock farmer will tell you that’s a regular April morning: save a couple of lives and then go in the house, wash up, and make your oatmeal.