Wednesday, January 16, 2008


Concerning the pumpkin. This berry is a favorite with the natives of the interior of New England, who prefer it to the gooseberry for the making of fruit-cake, and who likewise give it the preference over the raspberry for feeding cows, as being more filling and fully as satisfying. The pumpkin is the only esculent of the orange family that will thrive in the North, except the gourd and one or two varieties of the squash. But the custom of planting it in the front yard with the shrubbery is fast going out of vogue, for it is now generally conceded that the pumpkin as a shade tree is a failure.

-Mark Twain, 1870

I can only hope my study of Twain's agricultural writings will serve me well in my coming endeavor.

I know nil about farming and I have never blogged before, so this is something new for me on multiple fronts. It will be my goal here at Farmbedded to document the lessons, achievements, and follies I expect the next several months to present.

What I'll be doing:

As a journalist embedded on a farm (get it, "Farmbedded?") I will be living and working for three months at Howell Living History Farm in Titusville, New Jersey. As a farm intern, I envision myself shoveling a lot of manure, but my hope and expectation is that I'll also learn many things about all different aspects of running a farm and growing food.

The particularly interesting thing about Howell is that its primary purpose is to preserve and practice the animal-powered farming techniques of the late-nineteenth-century. So they farm here like it's 1890. I've already met the oxen and they are as big as SUVs.

Why do this?

Part of it is that I'm a reporter. I believe the interrelated stories of sustainability and self-sufficiency, energy and resource management, global warming and climate change, are issues critical to humanity that need to be covered from all angles by knowledgeable writers. Like many Americans, I know very little about where the food I consume comes from and less about how the new ways of food production have replaced the old. Howell seems a good place to start my education.

And part of it is I've just always wanted to live and work on a farm for a while. Anyone else feel that?

I won't actually be moving into my room at the farmhouse until February 26, but this seemed the right time to start this blog. (I will be making several working visits to Howell before then.) The farm calendar promises upcoming activities that include "Ice Harvest" and "Maple Sugaring." I will keep you, Esteemed Reader, updated on every experience as it happens, although my initial blog postings may be infrequent.

I'm eager to get started. Below is a passage from a letter Inez Howell wrote in 1974, in which she announced her decision to donate her family's farm to the public as a Living History Farm:

And the barn. The rugged old individualist, pigeons in its belfry, and bats, too, and barn swallows swooping in and out -- because life lives on other life -- wooden plough and oxen, treasured manure, sowing and reaping -- Harvest Home and fiddlers -- swing your partner and steal a kiss. Sleigh bells and up before dawn, fragrance of mint as you herd the cows up from the meadow, with the sun slanting across the Delaware. And church. And spring again.