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My Empire of Dirt

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In three weeks of eating nothing but Farm-fresh food, I lost 29 pounds, down from my pre-Farm weight of 234. Abs: That’s the upside of only two meals a day. The downside is the expense. Not counting my own labor, which was unending, I spent about $11,000 to produce what, all told, is barely enough to feed one grown man for a month. But I did learn something about food: Unless you really know what you’re doing, raising it is miserable, soul-crushing work. Eating food fresh from the farm, on the other hand, is delightful.

Few, if any, serious locavores would see my experience as having much to do with what they advocate: eating regionally and seasonally in order to save the planet. But I now better understand what will be needed to back up the slogans. Eating local is expensive and time-consuming, which is why this consumerist movement will not easily trickle down into mass society. It requires a willful abstinence from convenience and plenty, a core promise of the modern world. Our bountiful era is predicated on the division of labor: We don’t sew our own clothes, we don’t build our own houses—and we certainly don’t farm—because we’re too busy doing whatever it is we do for everyone else.

But locavores also preach the importance of valuing all the time and energy and care that go into producing good food, and there I’m with them. So, too, in the end, is Lisa. As I joined her and the kids for supper one night, after finishing my own, Lisa remarked that after seeing how hard I’d worked to put a simple plate of chicken on the table, she’d never shop the same way again. It wasn’t just a matter of buying regionally, or seasonally, or organically—the important thing was to consume responsibly. “I’ll never be as wasteful,” she said. “We throw away more food than we eat.”

There, at long last, was our Hallmark moment of mutual understanding.


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