Read the current Progressive Forage digital edition

Farming outside Eden

Erica Louder for Progressive Forage Published on 06 November 2019
Eden Welcome Sign

This blog was named “Farming outside Eden” for a couple different reasons. The first is a nod to the place our farm calls home. We are located a little way outside of the town of Eden, Idaho. Unlike its biblical namesake, Eden, Idaho it is not overflowing in lush greenery or spontaneous fruit trees.

It is typical of most of the high desert region of Idaho – irrigated crop ground that was once a sagebrush plateau. The sagebrush remains in areas that were too rocky for farming. “Too rocky for farming” describes a fair bit of our farm, which is one of the reasons it wasn’t farmed until the 1940s. 

The sheer difficulty of farming this ground is the other reason for my blog name. When Adam and Eve left the Garden of Eden, God told the pair that “in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread” and that “thorns and thistles shall it [the Earth] bring forth” (Genesis 3:18-19 KJV). In order to make a go at this land, we have worked to make it grow something more than sagebrush and lava rock. Our farm operates “outside Eden” in the literal and this figurative sense. 

I don’t care if you farm in the desert of Idaho, the Central Valley of California or the plains on Kansas, farming is tough, period. Most of us operate our farms somewhere “outside Eden” as we make a livelihood in agriculture. In many ways farming is easier than it was a hundred years ago when Eden, Idaho was settled. The advent of high horsepower tractors, center pivots and specialized implements ensure us of that. However, despite the obvious hardships when those first settlers came, they named our town Eden. 

To this day, agriculture remains hard, but the hard may look different than the back-breaking day of clearing sagebrush and sowing wheat. Sure, at times it can still be the hard, physical work we associate with farming, but more often it is the hard mental and emotional work that breaks us. I don’t need to quote the statistics; undoubtedly you already know them, but agriculture is winding down its sixth year of negative farm returns. Without land equity to fall back on, first generation farmers are leaving the industry. Farming seems a poor investment for their off-farm earned money. Suicide rates of farmers are the highest in decades. And organizations that we counted on to stand behind us are leaving without options but to sell out. 

While I named this blog “outside Eden” for the hard things about agriculture, I don’t often make it a point to always talk about those hard things. If I do, it is to generate a laugh; however, there is nothing funny about suicide rates. I hope the stories I share on this blog can give you a chance to remember the good parts of agriculture – what it is like to first start out and raise your kids on the farm. For me, I try to remember that while some might have called them delusional, the settlers of our town named it Eden. I like to think they were hopeful.  end mark

PHOTO: This "Welcome to Eden" sign was the Eagle Scout project of Eden native, Tex Godfrey. Photo by Erica Louder.

Erica Louder is a freelance writer based in Idaho.