Makenna Goodman  @  ChelseaGreen

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The Good Life is Rife With Politics

Posted on Monday, April 6th, 2009 at 11:25 am by Makenna Goodman

This weekend was cold, rainy, and snowy. Not the most perfect weekend to begin springtime farm chores, but the urge was too great to resist! My Saturday task was raking up old, wet leaves from the front yard and store them in a handmade wood and wire basket for compost use. Raking is really satisfying. Not to mention I uncovered about forty bright green flower stalks, already about five inches tall, and ready to burst! I couldn't believe they were there, to be honest–it was snowy and cold–but there they were, brave and alert.

I taught myself how to bake bread, too. I've never actually done it for real (in my mind, cornbread or banana bread don't really count, since with those I don't use yeast). I made a French Boule (which wound up tasting almost like sourdough b/c I let it sit overnight), and a Sandwich White loaf, which turned out sweet (I added honey to the dough) and a tiny bit dense. Perfect for French toast, which we made this morning, using the maple syrup we gathered ourselves a couple weekends ago at Bob C's, which by the way is practically vaporizing out of the jar we eat it so much.

Life is syrupy sweet lately. The garden beds are exposed and looking plush and ready, we're splitting wood for next year's sugaring operation (got about a cord so far, and need three), and plotting a site for a horse trough hot tub (which is a horse trough balanced on boulders, over a fire). I can't help but think, however, that my situation is rare among Vermont youth. The "Good Life" as it were, is not that simple. It's rife with political, identity, and economic struggle. Actually, I've been in a kind of bubble since I moved here, trying to get settled, get a job, figure out a relationship, writing, the state of the world, etc. A comment on my blog kind of snapped me out of it this weekend. It was from a Vermont native, in response to my somewhat facetious question: "Where are all the other frazzled, maladjusted young people like myself?"

"They left." Says the commenter. They left.

It's on my mind: the dynamics of the rural existence. There are those who have to do it (taking over or helping out their family business), those who choose to do it (hippyish folk who flee the city, like the Back to the Landers, and I guess….me?), and those who reject it (because it's stifling, because it's socially inhibiting, because it's insular). There are a large number of Vermont kids who flee their hometown, but why? Because they can't find jobs, in many cases. Because maybe they're sick of country-house weekenders coming up and saying "don't sub-divide our beautiful valley!" even though they're around like two weeks a year. Because maybe they want more music, theatre, restaurants, jobs, ethnic/racial diversity, or who knows what else. There's a lot of political intricacies of searching for and leaving rural life, that I think I'm just beginning to unearth. I've ceratinly thought about it–I grew up in rural Colorado until I was eleven–but lately it's coming to a head.

On the one hand, getting closer to the land is getting closer to human existence, and on the other…it can be pretentious. How many people do you know wear Carhartts and think that's all it takes to be rugged? Read Michael Pollan and think they know about food? It's not unlike the city kids I know with paint splattered jeans, who don't paint. (Also, for the record, Michael Pollan and Alice Waters are not the only people out there writing about farming and food politics. Check out Eliot Coleman, Gene Logsdon, and Derrick Jensen, to name a few). But it's not just about image, of course. It's a question of work, too. Those who put it in, and those who hire it out. Those who get their hands dirty, and those who don't. And a question of time, perhaps. Those who have time to dabble, and those who work three jobs. Those who have kids, those who don't. And on and on and on…Which isn't to say that those with privilege are inherently lazier. Just that there is a larger possibility for choice.

"Don't get me wrong," says the commenter, "I miss my home state quite a bit sometimes. And if I was independently wealthy, or if I were qualified to get one of the few interesting jobs that pay well in the area, I'd want to live there. But it's a tough place to make a living, and it's only the few that make it."

Is it possible for people like me to not swoop in and suck dry the culture of the rural? How can people who feel a connection to "the land" return to it, or come for the first time, while not destroying it or remaking it in their own image? Is it a question of seniority: those who were here first get to make the rules? Is it a question of tradition: the rules that were are the rules that should continue to be? Is it a question of democracy: the rather vague notion that anyone can do anything if they want to, because they're free? Is it a question of money: those who have it make the law, and those who have less must follow it anyway?

What do you think?

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