Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Local Words: Farming and Writing in Vermont

Julia Shipley, a writer and farmer, has been the co-organizer of our Local Author Reads event for the past two years. Julia is a 2010-2011 recipient of the Vermont Arts Council Creation Grant and is completing a "manuscript of braided essays about small scale agriculture". 

Her essay below, originally appeared in the Fall 2011 issue of Local Banquet. Samples of her work as well as information about her writing retreats and classes, can be found on her website, Writing on the Farm.

Having Both Lives: Farming and Writing in Vermont before 1972
by Julia Shipley

“Why anybody would want to be either a farmer or a poet when there were spools turning in factories was beyond the grasp of the old man. That his grandson should desire to be both was almost enough to bring on a stroke.”

According to the grandson’s biographer, “Determined in his course, Robert laid the whole matter before his grandfather. He would have a farm, live on it, produce his food with his own labor, and write poetry.” 

And although the grandfather eventually purchased a farm for his grandson, he turned it over to the young Robert Frost with no real encouragement. “You’ve made a failure out of everything else you’ve tried. Now go up to the farm and die there.” 

As we know, Frost exceeded his grandfather’s expectations. And many more have succeeded in this stroke-inducing thing—being both farmer and writer—and particularly here, in Vermont. And because of these dual efforts, we have a cultural harvest of literature. All of the farmer-writers mentioned in this article had firmly established their books and crops by the time I came into the world in 1972 (hence the title of this article), and all of them have inspired me since I moved to Vermont in 1997 with foolishness and feistiness, endeavoring to cultivate a farming and writing life of my own. 

Five years prior to this move, I had accosted a farmer-writer, Scott Chaskey, at a sustainable agriculture conference. He had just retrieved a notebook from his car and was heading back inside when I ran up to him and asked the author of This Common Ground: Seasons on an Organic Farm and head farmer of Quail Hill Farm in Amagansett, New York, my burning question: “Which comes first, which are you more of—a writer or a farmer?” He sighed and gazed across the lot, then back at me, and said, “Well, I’m a writer. I’m a writer first.” 

READ MORE HERE... Originally published in Local Banquet, Fall 2011

Fall 2011

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