Farmers are a lot like writers. They're observant, patient and take time to make things grow — so it's not surprising that a lot of farmers here (they seem to be clustered in the Applegate) are taking up writing, both in a literary way and to communicate via blogs with their customers.
"Most farmers are pretty innovative and creative and have a lot to say. Farming is an interesting challenge and a creative lifestyle," says Melissa Matthewson, who is getting several of her farmer-writer colleagues together to teach a "Farmers as Writers" workshop in October at the Oregon State Univesity Research and Extension Center.
The panel of teachers will tell how to set up a blog and submit manuscripts for publication. Matthewson, an Extension agent, posts her writings on www.blogspot.com and www.wordpress.com, where they become permanent "published" articles, which can be accompanied by photos and are open to postings by others who read the material.
"Blogging has become a great marketing and educational tool. I use it for nonfiction, essays, nature writing, landscape- and place-based writing," says Matthewson, who hopes to form a writers' group out of the workshop, where participants can read and review each others' writings and offer encouragement.
Applegate writer and blogger Chris Jagger sticks with the stuff of real life, mixed with passages about farm chores, then, fulfilling the need for marketing, tells blog readers what they can expect to find for sale at upcoming growers markets in Medford and Ashland.
"It's good for those of us who farm for a living and find time to expand on our thoughts about what we're doing," says Jagger. "I use it to keep in touch with my customers. The growers markets are too busy to talk to everyone.
"I write anything, farm-related stuff, and sometimes it can take a political bent about how organic farming fits into the big picture. Sometimes it's what's going on with my family," says Jagger, who wrote and posted pictures about the recent birth of his son, Damien.
"Farming is a good personal expression of self and so is writing," says Jagger, who will co-teach the class. "They're both art. People may think we're just groveling in the dirt all day, but it does give you time to think about stuff that's bottled up all the time."
Kirsten Shockey, of Melonia Farm in the Applegate, another co-teacher of the workshop, uses writing "to capture the events of the day, keep track of memorable things the children do and serve as a creative outlet because we have a lot of stories to tell."
Shockey uses writing to share intricacies of the agrarian lifestyle being discovered by a new generation of younger, organic farmers who have a deep feeling for the land and nature, she says.
"When people buy local (produce), they are buying into that story and they want to know that story," Shockey notes.
"With gardening and farming, you're always observing plants, weather, irrigation," says Erin Volheim of the Little Applegate. "You're using the key components of what writers need in order to write. There's a lot of the contemplative aspect that informs your writing. If you want to nurse that a little bit, just go out to your garden."
Volheim writes for the newsletter In Good Tilth, published by Oregon Tilth, and wrote a long study of the bee-killing Colony Collapse Disorder. An upcoming article will explore how farmers are adjusting to climate change.
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.