Dirt Eaters

Work, Food, and Communal Transformation

(from the frontlines of a hopeful revolution)

Opening Salvo

I’m not going to lie, climate change terrifies me. Oh, and robots, too.

I probably became an environmentalist because my parents sent me off to an outdoorsy camp when I was eight, but I’ve remained one because I fell in love with human beings, with all the great things we’re capable of, and I’m scared for us. I think we’re in trouble.

I want to have meaningful, ethical, fulfilling work, and I want all of my friends and loved ones to have the same. I want to raise children into a world where they can experience wonder, where they can feel connection, where the economy is stable and human-centered, where they can live dignified and creative lives.

I want these things, and I’m willing to work for them. Which is good, because I’ll have to. We all will.

There are transformations happening all around us all the time. Earthworms and fungi turn clay into fertile soil. Sunlight is turned into plant food. Soil is turned into human food. Carbon is stored in the ground. Grass becomes milk becomes cheese. Piglets are born. Children learn things and grow up. Individuals become a community. Bacteria does all sorts of crazy stuff. A heart begins to open and trust. Health is lost and then regained. A tree becomes a barn, or a table. Back and leg muscles become stronger. A nation changes its value system.

Sometimes these transformations are labeled “good” or “bad”, but more often they escape notice. They happen too slowly, or they’re too small, or we’re too distracted to see them. But once we learn to slow down and pay attention, they’re everywhere. Once a few friends and mentors clued me into their omnipresence, once I started seeing them myself, I couldn’t stop. Now, I find them a source of endless fascination, curiosity, and joy.

Oh, and hope, too.

If you’re at all like me, it can be easy to slip into pessimism and despair. Signs of ecological collapse abound, the wealth/experience gap continues to widen, the economy becomes ever more abstract and automated, well-intentioned people grow a thick layer of cynicism. I’m 28 now, and to this point I’ve spent adulthood trying to decide how to reckon with all these worrisome trends. How do you live a good life in the face of so much bad? How do you ethically raise kids in a broken world?

Tough questions, both, ones that keep me up at night. There are no answers that are right for everyone, and we all have to figure them out for ourselves. But for me, I want a life where my hands matter, where I’m elbow deep in the stuff of existence. I want to be able to observe those transformations up close, and I want to make a few of them happen myself. For me, that’s where magic and meaning lie, in those changes and the broader possibilities at which they hint.

To do that, I’m going to try to grow food for a living. And I’m going to try and do it in a way that helps sustain and restore the human and ecological communities upon which we all rely.

Wish me luck, friends.

I’ve created this website in order to document some of the many transformations that I encounter on my way. Those transformations may be personal, they may be interpersonal, they may be biological. All of them, in some way, will be related to the theme of health. And they’ll probably tie back, eventually, to the soil. To the extent that I’m able, they’ll be hopeful and future-oriented, with an eye toward the world we’ll leave for our children and grandchildren. And I’ll always come back to the power of communities (human and otherwise) to make changes for the better, if given a nudge in the right direction.

There may even be pictures.

This project is called “Dirt Eaters” because that’s what I aspire to be. I believe that, well, we all eat the dirt in one way or another, so we should probably think about it more. Learning the very basics about soil health, how it plays into plant health and animal health and human health and ecosystem health, has blown me away. I believe it to be central to solving “crises” as far reaching as childhood obesity, water availability, and climate change. And I believe I’m very late to the party.

I can’t wait to meet other Dirt Eaters, folks who understand systems and linkages and how to spur positive transformations, folks who work their butts off and find joy in simple things, folks who are doing their best to live out their values, and to be happy while they’re at it. I can’t wait to meet them and learn from them and become one of them myself.

On October 3rd, I’ll join 14 other adults at The Farm School in Athol, MA, where we’ll spend twelve months working and living together, learning how to farm. Let the transformations begin.