I’ve frequently noticed that farming and writing make poor bedfellows. If agriculture is my muse and occupation, then at the times when I am most engaged, to stop and make commentary on it is difficult, and worse, unproductive. In prose, if you take enough time, you can keep going over the piece until it is satisfactory. In farming such a technique will only give you hardpan. When you are farming you have windows of opportunity and pockets of luck. A window, sow your peas from Good Friday to Memorial Day. Luck is when you get a good picking from each. Planning helps, planting a lot helps. Expect failure somewhere along the way and you won’t be disappointed.
For a spring with nothing but rain and mist, the ground in Sagaponack is in beautiful shape—somewhere between moist chocolate cake and velvet. It’s been laid flat by the disk, a scarce 10-acre parcel, brown and opaque. The waiting field radiates like nothing else nearby does. Fog, in wispy little clouds, rises and vanishes into a sunny haze. Even when there are reasons to feel grim (I lost my first planting of beans to cold, the deer ravaged the spring cabbage and broccoli), seeing my home in agricultural splendor makes me feel so lucky and grateful that I escape foreknowledge of how much of this splendor has been squandered. The last time this much earth moved in Sagaponack a glacier was behind it. And it would take a glacier to bring all the land back.
Being a farmer here, and writing about it, obligates me to dwell on the obvious. This place has been wrecked. Take a short drive with my father. If we’ve got nothing to talk about, no logistics to go over, our conversations turn to the changes we’ve seen. By the time we arrive at the minor field among the houses, the Agricultural Reserve (a special percentage left untouched as a consequence of residential development), we are grumbling and feel sick. This land, too, is for sale, but not to a farmer. As I’ve previously explained, farmers are not likely to get huge monetary rewards for seeing things the way they might be. We might own a piece of land, but we continue to share it, by growing food on it and putting the food in places people get access to. And yet, oddly, it is Wall Street and not row crops that have set the value of this highly desirable property.
If this is difficult for my family who owns land, then imagine what it is like for young farmers. One of the key problems they run into is that there is not enough land to grow. So why is it that so many of these agricultural reserves are bastardized by lawn? More than once when I’ve inquired about beautiful land gone fallow, the agent or manager dismisses the notion, “If I had five dollars for everyone that asked about farming that land,” she laughs unconvincingly, then stops short. “No. The owners just want to sell the whole subdivision. They don’t want to have anyone on it.”
Indeed farming can be depressing. You see this weird side of humanity, this side that has a lot of money, and though they do not stay long, they can really muddy things up. Literally, the number one sin involves mud. Strangers, visitors, presumably late at night and high, decide to joyride in the waiting field I mentioned—only after it was newly planted. Or, even more common and more damaging, some careless individuals drain their swimming pool into the burgeoning rows. Try driving a tractor. Someone zooms by, and the passenger angrily screams, “fuckin’ farmer!”
I’m going seven miles an hour toward a different field and even I ask myself, “What the hell am I doing here?”