I slept in this morning. I allowed myself the indulgence of staying in bed until 5am because of the long day ahead. In addition to the normal farm routine, our fresh chicken pick-up is this evening. Bob, the kids and I won’t find our beds before 10pm. That constitutes a 17 hour work day. For this time of the year, it’s only slightly longer than the usual day, which is about 12-15 hours.
We often hear gasps of awe from our customers about the hours we put in, about what gets done in a day. If we had a nickel from every person who exclaims “How do you do it?!” we’d be…well, maybe not rich. But we’d have a fresh roll of baler twine at least once a month to keep the tractor and chicken pens repaired.
It seems we move at such a fast pace that I can never find the time to answer the question as fully as I want. So I want to take a few minutes and write it down. How do we do it?
We do it because of love.
We don’t do it out of a sense of duty.
If we do our work from a place of love, there is boundless energy to feed our long days. There is joy in every activity, rest built into every glance at the lush green world around us, nourishment in sharing the labor with people we care about.
If we did our work from a place of duty, there would be pain in every step, anger in every leaking hose, rage each time a pig dumps the water trough, impatience as we wait for every customer to finish their transaction, annoyance each time one of our kids fumbles and drops a freshly gathered egg.
I’ve been reflecting on this phenomenon this week as I’ve filed the requisite online forms with the Library of Congress and generated the new barcodes for the second edition of the very first book I wrote: The Grassfed Gourmet Cookbook. The story of this book traces the story of how I learned the secret to a farmer’s endurance.
The Grassfed Gourmet has more ex-publishers than my father-in-law had ex-wives. That’s saying a lot. As a young writer, I came across publisher after publisher who liked the writing, an occasional editor who shared my passion for the topic, and then ran smack-dab into dollars-and-sense rejections or cancelled contracts as I was told “Grassfed is just a fad,” “This book will never sell,” “This book can’t make money.” Publishers asked me to cut out the recipes. Cut out the stories about sustainable farm culture. And then write a hard-hitting book about the brutalities of factory farming. About the sins of multi-national food corporations. About the tragically hard lives of the small farmer who is up against the odds. “Because that sells,” I heard over and over. According to the big publishers, the way to a sustainable food system was to incite rage in the public. Get them to buy our food out of a sense of anger and a sense of duty to the small farmer.
But as I crossed the country and met with the farm families who contributed recipes to the cookbook, I learned that a sense of outrage might spark the public’s interest briefly. But that is not what keeps a farm running generation after generation. Good marketing plays a part. So does some basic animal husbandry and some business savvy. But the real trick is love. No amount of accounting, luck, or livestock knowledge will keep a farm afloat without love.
And if it weren’t for the farmers’ love for what they were doing, the book never would have been written. Bob and I couldn’t afford hotels as we crossed the country meeting with farmers to research the cookbook. We carried a tent and sleeping bags, then were surprised to meet farmer after farmer who offered us beds to sleep in. We brought money to buy food, then sat at the kitchen table with Jim and Ginger Quick, who became leaders in the Wisconsin grazing movement, as they served us our very first helping of home-cooked beef tongue. We pulled out our wallets at Forrest Pritchard’s farm in Virginia as he pressed package after package of meat into our hands for the road. He refused our money. “Take it,” he insisted. “This has to happen. Farmers like us need a cookbook.” We were strangers to every farmer we met. But they helped us every step of the way. We learned about the nuances of grassfed and pastured meats. We learned how flavors and textures could vary across the country in a sustainable food system. We also learned how farmers lived their daily lives. None of them were wasting daylight hours wringing their hands over the injustices of a corporate food system. None of them were moving fence, growing their own food and hauling coolers to farmers markets out of a sense of duty. It was out of love. They wanted the world to know why they do what they do. They wanted the world to savor what food should taste like when it is grown with love.
No sooner was the first edition off the press than I learned that publishers weren’t the only ones skeptical about a grassfed meat cookbook. The media in general had little interest in it. Promoting the book through conventional channels proved next to impossible. At a loss for how to move forward, I wrote letters to every farmer in the country who I could track down, telling them about the book.
And a few hundred of them wrote back, mailing me a check to buy a copy. And then they began calling and ordering it by the case. And they carried battered, dog-eared copies to their local farm meetings and regional conferences, and more farmers wrote and ordered cases, eager to share the books with their own customers. With hardly a mention in a single media outlet, The Grassfed Gourmet became the best selling grassfed meat cookbook, in spite of all the slick big-publisher volumes with hard covers and full-color photography that followed.
Love for this book has continued. When it lost yet another publisher, farmers I’d never met called me at home. They offered me cash advances to keep it in print. They called and wrote letters, telling me how much the book meant to them, fueling my fire to bring out a new edition.
And now, finally, the new edition is in print. I am eleven years more seasoned as a writer, eleven years more seasoned as a farmer. And as I face this long day, I know very well the secret to making it to the end with a smile on my face. I do what I do because I love it.
As this grassfed movement has grown, I’ve come to see all the most enduring components are sparked from that joy: From Jo Robinson’s tireless trekking across the country when she first uncovered the scientific research pointing to the benefits of grassfed meats; to Joel Salatin’s dogged enthusiasm to fire up farmers to take up the vocation; to the countless farmers and ranchers who take up their pens to share with each other about their innovations at conferences and through myriad publications.
As those of you who are reading this are aware, one of the most important venues for that sharing has become On Pasture, a daily source of inspiration and information for millions of readers tied to the grassfed farming movement. On Pasture is free to all, administered by Rachel and Kathy out of the same force that makes enduring farms, the same force that made a little unknown cookbook so well-known: love. Thus, as a contribution to that spirit, I’ve donated a few cases of the books to them to use as a fundraiser. Every person who sends $50 to support On Pasture will help to keep this important resource available for farmers worldwide, and will also receive a free copy of The Grassfed Gourmet (until all the books are gone). On Pasture wins, you win, and our movement continues to grow stronger…not out of duty, but out of love.
Editors Note: When Shannon’s book first came out 10 years ago, farmers and ranchers found that having a supply of them on hand really helped when it came to marketing their product. With that in mind, if you’d like to buy more than one book, head over to Shannon’s website to learn more about quantity discounts.