Bored and agitated one summer day some years ago, I jumped in my car and drove 90 miles through a mostly green Pennsylvania to see some cows. But not just any cows. In the late sixties, I lived at the Milton Hershey School, an all-boys boarding school for orphans and semi-orphans founded by the inventor of modern chocolate manufacturing. My father died when I was 11, and that was my dubious ticket into Milton Hershey. Daily barn chores were part of our high school responsibilities, and it was to the barn I had worked in for four years that I made my impromptu dash. To do what when I arrived there I could not say.

Albert DiBartolomeo is the author of two novels, several short stories, numerous commentaries for the Philadelphia Inquirer and other publications, and has written… More…

Max Watman’s new memoir Harvest: Field Notes from a Far-Flung Pursuit of Real Food, depicts the author’s quest for real food and real farm life – minus the farm. This excerpt is his cautionary tale of raising chickens – “The Girls” – in his Hudson Valley backyard. Harvest is available now from W.W. Norton and Company, on Amazon and at your local bookstore.

We named our chickens Goldie, Pepper, Karen, and Penguin. Goldie was a Buff Orpington hen, the biggest of the girls and the leader — the top of the pecking order. She was a very good-looking bird, with soft feathers the color of straw — so good looking, in fact, that when I lent her to a neighbor girl who entered her in a country fair, she won a blue ribbon as a perfect example of her breed. I liked to pretend that she lorded… More…

These things are by nature impossible to see, but the Florida Atlantic University parking lots in Boca Raton are built on a lost civilization.

 

In 1903, 29-year-old Japanese pioneer and recent NYU graduate Jo Sakai had a notion. He would gather together a small band of enthusiasts, investors, and hangers-on, he told the Jacksonville Board of Trade. Together, they would grow pineapples and rearrange a little piece of America based on utopian ideals and Japanese know-how. “A Jap here at Rickard’s looking for a tract of land for a colony,” noted Frank Chesebro, Boca banana pioneer, in his diary. By 1905 the Yamato Colony set sail. The educated colonists were few at first, and they didn’t actually know how to farm, but they worked hard for their new tropical micro-paradise. Clusters of shacks sprouted up on the half-flooded,… More…

 

 

The Pennsylvania Farm Show is always pointing out that it’s the largest indoor agricultural event in the country, so maybe it makes sense to start with the buildings. The Farm Show is held just outside Harrisburg at the Farm Show Complex & Expo Center — a space, as its name suggests, dedicated to the Farm Show but supported throughout the year by car shows and rodeos and proms. Of course you can’t corral the Keystone State’s largest industry into one space overnight. It’s been an 80-year process that’s resulted in a hodgepodge of buildings with varying degrees of stylistic intent and temperature control. To say that to walk through the Farm Show is to walk back in time isn’t to be wistful for some diminishing agrarian way of life, but… More…

Michael Pollan’s bestseller, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, has gotten people all riled up about farmers again. The last time this happened was when the first Farm Aid concerts reminded America that we have strong feelings about the family farm and its economic viability. The new round of farmer feelings is more directly related to issues of trade and the impact of globalization. As Pollan writes:

“I’m thinking of the sense of security that comes from knowing your community, or country, can feed itself; the beauty of an agricultural landscape; the outlook and kinds of local knowledge the presence of farmers brings to a community; the satisfactions of buying food from a farmer you know rather than the supermarket; the locally inflected flavor of a raw-milk cheese or honey. All those things—all those pastoral values—free trade proposes to sacrifice in the name of efficiency and economic growth.”

My general feeling about farmers… More…