Down a curvy, one lane road in Campbellsburg, Kentucky, sitting atop a steep ridge lies Pickle Creek Farm. It’s a humble homestead with sustainable goals; named after my partner’s late brother Ryan’s mechanic shop—and also his dog, Pickle, whom we now care for and love dearly. The name came about by a habit of both brother and dog somehow “always getting into a pickle.” This land is family land of my partner, Chris, the descendant of many generations of Gorbandts in this area. The farm is around 55 acres of karst land, half forested, straddling Henry and Trimble Counties. The ridge forms an L shape covered in pasture, with wooded flanks and slopes that lead to a creek cutting a valley through the back of the farm.
The sun blankets the hills a million different ways over the year, and the moon and stars are unrivaled in their sheer luminosity. In the summer, the full trees muffle the sound of the nearby interstate, and in the winter, we have an unparalleled view of the rolling valleys and hills that surround us. The great blue heron often greets us from the creek that runs through the culvert as you come up the steep driveway; a stoic hawk often standing watch from the power lines at the entrance to our gate. The creek that winds through the back valley of the farm is deep in the forest canopy. It’s cool in the summer, lush with wild ramps in the spring, and flanked with wingstem, milkweed, and ironweed all summer-long. The creek bed is littered with limestone fossils from millions of years ago, embedded with countless crinoids and brachiopods. The pastures are alive with butterflies of all colors, fluttering from bloom to bloom. This place has our hearts, and every day I am captivated and impassioned by its beauty.
Often while looking out on that ocean swell of hills and valleys from our ridge top view, I wonder who else came before us, in this place. Who else has marveled at this beautiful scene? Did they have the same love for this place? I think about how it will look for my children, and my children’s children. I think about what my part—tucked between ancestors and descendants—might be in the immensely large and complicated history of this landscape, and what an agrarian lifestyle might afford the land, the animals, and the community of this place. The history of this land and the people who have inhabited it is vast and heavy. My three years here with my partner is a mere blink in time. There are so many layers of trauma that blanket this landscape, and they require and deserve careful unpacking. How does a person of European descent address the deeply rooted history of violence against this land and the people who inhabited it over the ages—and against those who were brought here by force? How do we best address this truth with respect and humility? Agriculture and food are deeply embedded into our culture and the cultures of the past, especially in this rural place. The cultural history of the area immediately surrounding Pickle Creek Farm is of particular interest: What did this place look like before contact— before European colonization? Who occupied this area? What was grown on this land, and how was it grown? How was the land managed? What did the people who lived here eat, and how was it prepared?
In the nearer past, around 20 to 30 years ago, corn, tobacco, and hay were grown here—sometimes simultaneously, but more often in rotation—by Chris’ grandfather, William Gorbandt. Today, we raise a modestly large (every year, larger) garden, have a small flock of chickens, and hay the pastures. In the future, we hope to be a draft-powered farm, with a market garden and a community-driven, educational mission. Sheep, goats, cattle, and pastured poultry also fit into our long-term regenerative plan, with rotational, multi-species grazing.
Our work must focus on the people who occupied this area, by nativity, choice, or by force. It is my hope that our time here will illuminate these important considerations and ways of thinking about, caring for, working with, and connecting to this landscape. I hope my studies shed light on our place in this long lineage of land stewards, and the best way to honor and care for this land. The Native people of Kentucky lived gently on this land for millennia, long before Europeans desecrated it, and long before a white couple moved up on this hill in the 21st century. Our lives’ work will also address two important questions: What does it mean to be indigenous, and can we become native to a place through agrarian thought and practice?
I will answer these, to the best of my ability and knowledge, with my time here. I think the crux of the answer lies in how best to care for this place, and my role in the long and often dark history of this land. I hope to use this historical guide in my stewardship of Pickle Creek Farm. I hope that by giving voice and truth to the past of this place, I can learn how to best care for it. As Wendell says:
“It is impossible to escape the sense that I am involved in history. What I am has been to a considerable extent determined by what my forbears were, by how they chose to treat this place while they lived in it; the lives of most of them diminished by it, and limited its possibilities, and narrowed its future. And ever day I am confronted by the question of what inheritance I will leave” (Berry – A Native Hill)
I think by choosing to stay, and choosing to care for the land with agrarian principles, I am becoming part of this place, and it, a part of me. I am choiceless in that truth. I cannot escape this place, not that I would want to. My ancestors may have desecrated it, stolen it from the Native people, and sucked it dry. But I have a choice in how I will care for this land. I have a choice to do the right things. I won’t narrow its possibilities, but work to restore its future. It all turns on affection, as Berry has also said. The soil knows my name, and every day I hope to know it better.