Writing from the Farm: Log Lunch with Ellyn Gaydos

On Friday December 1, the Log Lunch community was joined by Ellyn Gaydos, author of Pig Years, a work of creative nonfiction that describes her life as a farmhand. Pig Years is not a farm manual, but contains descriptions of day-to-day life on the farm, including observations of the land, animals, and people that make it up.

Ellyn currently works at Abode Farm in New Lebanon, New York, a small organic vegetable farm that mostly produces food for its CSA. She grew up in Vermont and got her first farm job at 18. She got a degree in literary journalism from Hampshire College, and originally thought she’d pursue a career in journalism, but struggled to make a livelihood from it and returned to farming. 

Throughout that time, Ellyn remained an avid diarist. “I encourage people to continue with their creative pursuits even if it doesn’t feel like there’s a point to it,” she said. Her presentation included pictures of some of her diary pages, which include to-do lists, observations, and general notes on farming. Fourteen of those diaries eventually became Pig Years.

Ellyn emphasized the importance of observation in the moment to her writing practice. “I couldn’t have written this book if I hadn’t continuously been writing,” she said. “Looking back and trying to describe things would make it boring. Specificity is very important to me. I’ll just be out in the field with a notebook, amassing an insane amount of material, then picking and choosing little pieces, collaging it into a story.” Ellyn read a few passages from the book, where things like the simple act of planting potatoes are meticulously described and transformed into beautiful prose. 

Ellyn said that her experience as a journalist, having to write consistently under time pressure, helped to develop her skills, along with reading lots of fiction and attending a writing group. “I read friends’ work to be inspired, and try to write letters,” she said. “Those are little things that add up somehow. Just writing in a diary keeps the pressure off.”

She did not originally intend to write about her job, but she said that the extra motivation writing brings to pay close attention has helped her farming. “I’ve done factory work, too, and writing to pay attention helped,” she said. “But that’s not like farming because it’s not fun.”

Pig Years originally started as the story of a pregnant pig that Ellyn had been observing, and her interest in pigs is a theme throughout the book. “People say they’re as smart as two-year-olds,” she said. “But they don’t have the same sort of desire to please people as dogs do, so it’s harder to read their intelligence. They make good company, they’re very curious.”

Ellyn said that the opportunities she has had to take managerial positions on the farms she has worked on has helped her stick with it. “Farm friends are very important,” she added. 

The Log Lunch team prepared a delicious menu, featuring several recipes from families and friends of the chefs. The main dish was gnocchi with brown butter, spinach, squash, and caramelized onions, with several green sides of arugula, carrot, apple, lemon, parsley salad, roasted brussels sprouts with a lemon dill yogurt sauce, and coconut braised collards and kale. For dessert, everyone enjoyed pecan shortbread bars.