The Power of Place

I’ve been quiet lately. That’s ok, I think. Probably the most memorable experience of the past month was a trip the family took to pick strawberries together. We took the country route, rather than the busy highway. I was inspired by several farms, and stopped for grass fed beef and a full gallon of maple syrup along the way. Talking with the farmers was inspiring as it warmed my soul, which remains somewhat confused and unsure of the future. I even fantasized over a plan to work for the cattle farmer for free for a decade (or for low pay) while learning the ropes prior to somehow buying the place. Alas, my wife isn’t interested. We’ll figure something out.

My book is selling really well at one location, a restaurant called the Duluth Grill. This is due to high traffic, and because the display has high visibility as you walk in. Elsewhere things have slowed down. It’d be nice to get things cranking on Kindle or the audiobook more, but people simply aren’t aware of it among umpteen other options. Life goes on. We’ll keep trying. An encouraging visit with a book club, along with the experience of local farms mentioned above, inspired the following column running in the paper today…

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Place matters. It is our soil for sinking roots. Each contribution—150 years of them in Duluth—has been like individual leaves falling to the ground, gradually producing a rich, alluvial-like cultural soil.

We are all responsible for conserving culture, while simultaneously adding to its richness.

Economy and culture in the Twin Ports, though the two need not be distinguished, is increasingly based on neighborliness rather than on a cutthroat sense of competition. Wendell Berry, in essays like “The Work of Local Culture,” and “Economy and Pleasure,” has written ruefully about the loss of diverse, local economies for decades. Slowly, like the growth of a tree, there are signs of it coming to fruition here.

If a community is unable or unwilling to produce much of its own art, entertainment, healthy food, or appreciate local beauty in all its forms, it has lost its identity.

What you take from the earth to fill your stomach, along with gleanings from culture to fill your mind, are enjoyable places to start. Think of the sense of fulfillment gained while eating locally grown food at a place like the Duluth Grill. The quality of food is noticeably higher. Ingredients are not sourced from a semi truck delivering industrially grown food from far away that is heavily reliant on the input of chemicals.

True nourishment comes from a full stable of vegetables grown in fertile soil that is worked and cherished in love, hooved beasts grown sustainably on pasture rather than knee-deep in their own excrement, and from the lifeblood of trees tapped in our region. This bounty comes from nearby farms that you are welcome to visit, by farmers you may grow to love.

This goodness is available for you to experience each day in the comfort of your own home. Local agriculture continues to expand, fueled by intense demand.

During a recent visit to the Food Farm I was impressed by the level of cooperation, friendship, and sharing among organic farms in nearby Wrenshall.

Food Farm has mentored and incubated numerous competitors during its existence. Northern Harvest Farm, for example, spent its first two years on the property. They, in turn, have shared equipment and friendship with their original mentors over the years, while also helping in the establishment of other farms, such as with Stone’s Throw Farm located just across their country lane. This sharing of knowledge, rather than the hoarding of it, is refreshing.

Food Farm will soon put a root cellar into operation that will store over three million individual servings of scrumptious veggies, such as the sweetest and crispiest carrots on Earth.

During my stay I caught a glimpse of the toil required to produce a superior crop. I spent 90 minutes hoeing a single 435-foot row of broccoli. The soil was light, airy, and easy to work—evidence that it had been treated well. Contrast this with an image of a “farmer” in full HAZMAT gear spraying unknown chemicals across acres of florets of the industrially grown variety. Does this convey health and goodness to you?

The same goes for our entertainment. An unhealthy consumption of entertainment produced far away in the “cultural centers” has a deleterious effect on local character. Great forces seek to homogenize all of us into a level of sameness that is alarming.

Annie Dugan, executive director of the Duluth Art Institute, boils it down by saying, “A healthy Duluth will eat food we make ourselves and engage with art our neighbors have created. There is a real power to making, eating, and enjoying each other, rather than having it done for you.”

We all help keep the Duluth in Duluth by identifying and supporting artists of all mediums that resonate. For example, I was recently invited as a special guest of two book clubs that read my book. The level of support and encouragement I received as a fledgling author was tremendous. Remarkably, they seemed to benefit as much as me. It was a win for everyone involved, and something you should consider retrofitting to your own interests.

Rather than looking to overpaid and arrogant celebrities and corporations for mental, spiritual, and physical nourishment, there are plenty of healthier options right here.


Here’s what those 435-foot rows of broccoli looked like a month ago. Now they are producing, and have a bumper crop. Knowing EXACTLY where they come from has helped me to enjoy them all the more. Our CSA box contained three heads this week, due to an overabundance brought on by heat. Get to know a farmer near you. Learn how they invest in the soil and in your community.

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I will admit to battling significant discouragement. These meaningful encounters have helped keep me going, and are an example of just how important it is sink roots down deeply into your community. Not only will you survive when the storms of life lash violently against your very soul, but each day will be that much more satisfying.

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