3 Sources That Keep Farm Storytelling Traditions Alive

Listening is a skill that farmers and gardeners must cultivate. During winter, turning our attention to sage storytellers is as natural as the changing of seasons.

by Karen Lanier
PHOTO: Shutterstock

For our ancient ancestors, the winter was a time of slowing activities, gathering around the hearth and spending long nights listening to elders tell stories. These storytellers delivered lessons, morals and reminders of how to live in a good relationship with the Earth. Many of us don’t have elders in our lives who remember farming naturally.

Today, podcasts and online videos have replaced grandmother’s tales. Here are three sources of farm stories to keep the tradition alive.

farm storytelling

1. Family Farms of Kentucky

Thanks to digitization of archives, some stories about old farming techniques have been preserved and are easily accessible. Unlike polished podcasts, their unedited rawness pulls the listener into the process and requests patience. Listening to these storytellers is well worth the effort.

The Family Farms of Kentucky is an oral history collection that includes all aspects of the traditional family farm. You can browse through more than 500 interviews online. Here’s one that I particularly like, recorded in 1992 with Marjorie Colton, who was born in 1918.

She shares her personal experience on the topic of traditional medicine and health care on the family farm. These were the ways hard-working people took care of their bodies with what the land provided. A resurgence in interest in forest medicinals makes this especially valuable.

2. The Female Farmer Project

The Female Farmer Project is developing a documentary film, and its members have begun a podcast of their long-form interviews with women who work the land in particular ways. If winter puts you in an isolated condition and you crave a good girlfriend conversation, this podcast will perk you up—or fire you up.

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These women are kicking ag’s ass in so many ways, and the mission of producer Audra Mulkern is to bring their stories out.

Take Carey Portell, for example, who has found a way to farm even after becoming severely disabled in a car crash. Listen to Breanna Holbert, the president of Future Farmers of America who inspires youth across the country to dedicate their careers to growing food.

The latest recording with Jessica Gigot reveals the way she processes the multifaceted experiences of farming through her poetry.

3. Robin Wall Kimmerer

Anything by Robin Wall Kimmerer speaks to the part of me that is hungry to live in harmony with nature but doesn’t quite have the vocabulary for it.

Kimmerer is founding director of the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment. She teaches about the current state of agriculture and disconnection from natural processes, yet she doesn’t preach, threaten or instill a guilty conscience. Rather, her words inspire a sense of calm and a call to action that makes good sense.

She is a quiet warrior who bridges the scientific mind and the indigenous culture. The term TEK recurs in her writing, which refers to Traditional Ecological Knowledge. Listen to her gentle voice and scroll through the visual art that accompanies her piece in Emergence Magazine, Corn Tastes Better on the Honor System.

After Kimmerer reveals the knowledge held within a kernel, you’ll never look at corn the same way again. She also was featured on the radio program On Being as she discussed the Intelligence in All Kinds of Life.

Listening is a skill that farmers and gardeners must cultivate. We have to listen to the land, to good advice, to animals, to the weather and to our own bodies. This winter, turning our attention to sage storytellers is as natural as the changing of seasons.

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