A Little Bit of Land by Jessica Gigot
Jessica Gigot did not grow up on a farm, nor did she set out to become a farmer. Nevertheless, today Gigot owns Harmony Fields, a sustainable sheep farm in Bow known for its farmstead cheese.
Gigot retraces her meandering path, from farm intern to horticulture Ph.D. candidate to landowner, in her gentle memoir “A Little Bit of Land.” Gigot’s quiet, thoughtful essays are an ode to a meaningful, work-filled but simpler life.
You may be tempted to take a drive to the Skagit Valley to spy on the farm’s sheep and miniature donkeys. If you’re in the market for certified Animal Welfare Approved lamb, you can make an appointment to stop by and pick up a Fall Lamb Box.
So how did Gigot become a sustainable farmer? As a child, her family moved a lot from suburb to suburb. Her diet leaned heavily on prepared foods like Hot Pockets, consumed in front of the television. Her main introduction to scratch cooking came from annual trips to her grandmother’s house in Wisconsin. Her fascination with livestock — particularly sheep — began with a photo of a New Zealand sheep-farming family she tore out of a National Geographic and carried with her for years.
Despite these early longings for domesticity and a sense of place, Gigot began as an English major in college. She wanted to write poetry that celebrated nature, like Emily Dickinson. However, Gigot’s freshman-year Ecology professor made a huge impression on her, and before long Gigot transferred to the biology department.
The book jumps from one experience and place to another — a seasonal internship at an herb farm in Southern Oregon, another on Lopez Island, and a research project studying plant pathology at Washington State University. The list goes on. The through line is learning about what it takes to be a farmer.
Gigot is a voracious learner, unafraid to ask questions and follow her curiosity. She quickly discovers she has an aptitude for hard labor. A dream takes shape — to find some land where she can dig in and start a farm of her own.
The essays in this memoir move back and forth through time and read more like short vignettes, flitting from one idea to the next. Gigot references her admiration for scientist and bestselling author Robin Wall Kimmerer, whose book “Braiding Sweetgrass” is clearly an inspiration. Another hero is Wendell Berry, the renowned poet, professor and environmental activist who left his position in higher education to return to farming. Gigot writes letters to Berry, and remarkably, he writes back. His advice: “Don’t take on so much work that you overwhelm your gratitude.”
Gratitude is something Gigot has in spades. She’s grateful for her supportive husband, her lively daughters, the chilly winter months when she can focus on her writing and the hectic summers where she’s busy from dawn to dusk tending to her farm. She recognizes that “small farming is almost all risk” but that it is also deeply rewarding. It brings her a feeling of belonging — to the earth and to her community, “caring for this landscape as best we can.”
For another charming take on small farms, stream the film “The Biggest Little Farm.” It’s available from Whatcom County Library System’s Kanopy subscription. Go to wcls.kanopy.com and enter your WCLS (or Bellingham Public Library) card number to begin.
Christine Perkins is executive director of the Whatcom County Library System, which serves all the communities in Whatcom County outside the city limits of Bellingham. Experience the power of sharing — at the library!
(Originally published in Cascadia Daily News, Saturday, November 26, 2022.)