Up on the Farm: Writing About Food & Farming


By Nancy Hayden

Finding the words to describe the organic farm we’ve been immersed in and passionate about for twenty-seven years, and then crafting those words into a book to interest and inspire readers has been an enjoyable and difficult challenge. Reliving the successes and failures on our farm, The Farm Between, required honest reflection and hard work. Not as hard as the farming though!

Our book, Farming on the Wild Side: The Evolution of a Regenerative Organic Farm and Nursery (coauthored with my husband John and published by Chelsea Green), is coming out September 19. In it, we share our no spray, biodiversity-based approach for growing perennial fruits and explore our farming and food philosophies. Working with Chelsea Green has been a great experience personally and professionally, requiring persistence, showing up daily for writing, and being limber enough to handle the inevitable bumps in the road. 

In retrospect, the seed for this book was planted back in 2014 with an article I wrote about our farm for Local Banquet called “Farm-Ecology”! I’d recently earned an MFA in writing and had retired from my environmental engineering faculty job at the University of Vermont to further explore writing and art, and to spend time farming. A serendipitous meeting with the Local Banquet editor and a pitch about the farm prompted the article and started me on the path to writing about the farm. 

At a conference in the spring of 2016, John struck up a conversation with the senior editor at Chelsea Green about our farm. A possible book idea emerged. After a query and telephone conversation, we sent in a proposal about our farming approach. The focus of that proposal included a bit more memoir than Chelsea Green wanted. It didn’t garner much excitement, but it wasn’t rejected either. We kept the lines of communication open, but the project seemed to stall.

Undaunted, I kept writing material for the book, Local Banquet, and other projects. While John helped with the proposal, and ultimately with all aspects of the book, I had the professional writing interest so we decided early on that I would take the writing lead. This meant I remained the contact for Chelsea Green. It also meant that I wrote and rewrote drafts, and organized material and photographs.

In the late spring of 2017, the Chelsea Green editor contacted us about a pollinator article we’d written for The Natural Farmer. She really liked it, and this re-invigorated the book conversation. She visited the farm and gave us ideas on what to include in another proposal. This revised proposal focused on the ecology of our perennial fruit farming approach, including resilience in the face of climate change, and not as much about the early years of the farm when we were raising organic vegetables, pastured meats, and our kids. Meanwhile, I had received a Vermont Arts Council Creation Grant to finish writing my “farm” book and find a publisher. The Arts Council was especially positive about the subject matter, the Vermont aspect, and the overall writing. Getting the grant gave me confidence that this project was worth pursuing.

Our revised proposal was accepted by Chelsea Green in December 2017. I signed the contract in February 2018 with the complete manuscript due December 2018 – a cause for celebration and a little panic.

After the manuscript was submitted, the editor required revisions. This isn’t unusual, but it was hard to take back the manuscript so soon after patting ourselves on the back for completing it on schedule. We regrouped and rearranged and reworked the material as per the editor’s suggestions. I liked working with deadlines (and feedback) especially for a lengthy project like this one. It definitely reduced procrastination tendencies. Since this past February, the manuscript has gone through a team of editors, book designers, and production specialists, all with deadlines for reviewing material. It’s been hectic, but also fun to see the book unfolding at various stages. A couple of months ago, we started working with the promotion and marketing staff and have already scheduled several events in September including a book launch on September 18 (7 p.m.) at Phoenix Books in Essex Vermont. 

One of the things that kept me motivated throughout this long process is my belief that an ecological approach to farming (and gardening) can be part of the solution to many of the world’s current problems such as climate change, loss of biodiversity, and growing healthy food. We need more people doing this! It’s the cumulative result of many people doing little things that will effect change. I also hope others will share their own farm and garden stories that inspire a greater reverence and respect for our natural world!

Nancy J. Hayden’s book Farming on the Wild Side: The Evolution of a Regenerative Organic Farm and Nursery (coauthored with John Hayden) is available from Chelsea Green Publishers. Her website is www.nancyjhayden.com. The farm website is www.thefarmbetween.com