Early in the winter of 2006, Jenna Butler found herself standing on a cold country road, looking over an unpromising quarter section of northern bush. With the glow of her car’s headlights, she surveyed an abandoned grain bin, listened to the howl of a coyote pack and the call of a great horned owl, and knew a switch had flipped inside of her. Passionate about small farming and organic practices, Butler and her partner have withstood drought, floods, insects and their neighbours’ disbelief over the past nine years to create Larch Grove Farm.
About the author
Jenna Butler is the author of three critically acclaimed books of poetry, Seldom Seen Road (NeWest Press, 2013), Wells (University of Alberta Press, 2012) and Aphelion (NeWest Press, 2010); an award-winning collection of ecological essays, A Profession of Hope: Farming on the Edge the of Grizzly Trail (Wolsak and Wynn, 2015); and a poetic travelogue, Magnetic North: Sea Voyage to Svalbard (University of Alberta Press, 2018).
Butler's research into endangered environments has taken her from America's Deep South to Ireland's Ring of Kerry, and from volcanic Tenerife to the Arctic Circle onboard an ice-class masted sailing vessel, exploring the ways in which we impact the landscapes we call home. A professor of creative writing and environmental writing at Red Deer College, she lives with seven resident moose and a den of coyotes on an off-grid organic farm in Alberta's North Country.
- Short-listed, High Plains Book Award for Creative Nonfiction
- Winner, Living Now Book Awards - Green Living
- Winner, Canadian Authors Association Exporting Alberta Award
Excerpt: Profession of Hope, A: Farming on the Edge of the Grizzly Trail (by (author) Jenna Butler)
This is not the story of a ready-made farm, complete with generations of history, carefully tended tools and sturdy clapboard farmhouse. Those came later, as we learned the stories of our county and added a cabin of our own to the land. That first summer, though, there was nothing to move into, and so we moved out. After our teaching jobs wrapped up for the summer, we spent every available moment out on the land. At its most basic, it was literally just us, an axe, a chainsaw and a quarter section of northern bush picked out in inquisitive moose.
This is what the small farm movement is all about. Inspiration. Diversity. Maybe a touch of madness: the desire to be out under the sky in all weather, to be working with our hands as much as possible, turning to big machinery only when necessary. When it comes down to it, it’s about hard work and long hours put in with the knowledge that in order to found our farm from nothing, it’s been necessary to hold other jobs in the wings, full-time jobs that also require energy. My husband and I are not extraordinary people. We’re everyday folk, and we’ve lived in a big city for most of our lives. But there’s a very specific love that drives us out here, that makes us want, more than anything, to be able to enrich our lives and those of others by working with this land, taking just what we need from a small corner while safeguarding the rest as a wild place for future generations. There’s an excitement about it all, not just about small-scale northern farming, but about what it can mean now, at this point in time, for this country. Paul Hawken, entrepreneur and environmental activist, frames it exactly: "When asked if I am pessimistic or optimistic about the future, my answer is always the same: if you look at the science about what is happening on earth and aren’t pessimistic, you don’t understand the data. But if you meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of the poor, and you aren’t optimistic, you haven’t got a pulse."
Welcome to the farm.
"A Profession of Hope is memoir, paean and plea for caring. Jenna Butler makes a passionate, lyric case for a small organic farm 'two scant growing zones off the Arctic' and – as poets can do so well – she connects the local and immediate to the big issues of human life on this planet." – Alice Major, author of The Office Tower Tales and Standard Candles
"Crazy. Committed. Clear-eyed and alive to the contradictions involved when two city folks take up weekend farming, travelling an hour and a half in a gas-powered vehicle to subvert Big Oil’s power over the Alberta landscape by tilling the soil. Jenna Butler has written a book in which you can enjoy the impossibilities of going up against the current of auto-based urban sprawl, humbly, knowing that you can’t truly do a thing to change the course of things, knowing also that you can do no other. Smitten by an unpromising northern acreage, she willingly puts her all into growing a sustainable livelihood, practical by necessity, yet wide eyed in wonder at what grows from this holy foolishness. Taking it all in, and writing it down, beautifully." – John Terpstra, author of The Boys, or, Waiting for the Electricians Daughter and The House with the Parapet Wall
"From her 'mad little farm' on the edge of the northern forest, Jenna Butler – poet, essayist and X-treme gardener – has brought in a harvest of home truths. A Profession of Hope is a deep and inspiring meditation on what it means to care for the places we love." – Candace Savage, author of A Geography of Blood