Sunday, March 7, 2010

Mixed Farming


Yesterday I was pulling weeds in my front yard, which hadn’t got the memo that it’s supposed to be a flowerbed, not a lawn. As I ripped up grass and dandelions, I realized it could also be a kitchen garden.

The trailing blackberry is crawling all over the bearberry. The deer have snipped off some of the camas leaves, but the bulbs are safely underground. And if the blaze of blossoms is anything to go by, in a few months the red-flowering currant is going to produce a bumper crop of fruit.

The mix of plants in my front yard is much like the career of most writers. Few of us make a living just from sowing a lawn of words on the page. Instead, we teach or manage offices, shelve books in libraries or stores, and do 101 other jobs according to our skills and bills.

At The Writers’ Union of Canada symposium in Vancouver, BC on March 5, Betsy Warland called this “mixed farming.” It’s having a combination of jobs that feed and protect each other, she said.

It reminds me of early North American farmers, who planted squash that provided food and also shaded the soil around cornstalks, which provided food as well as support for climbing beans, which provided food….

So for writers, ideally each job/crop will nurture and protect the others.

For example, Warland is an author and provides one-on-one manuscript assistance to other writers and runs The Writer’s Studio at Simon Fraser University, while her fellow presenter, Ross Laird, writes, teaches and is an addictions clinical supervisor for social service agencies.

Exposure in each area of expertise creates awareness of the other areas and leads to new clients or readers – or both.

So one of the messages I took away from the day-long TWUC event is that most writers cannot count on the monoculture of writing to feed ourselves. If we want to enjoy pizza, we must come out of the silo, dig some manure into the soil, and plant tomatoes, peppers and oregano. And, of course, keep weeding.

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