Jessica Gigot ’06 MS Plant Path., ’11 PhD Hort.
Oregon State University Press: 2022
In this lovely and lyrical memoir, Skagit Valley sheep farmer Jessica Gigot ponders: “What does it mean to love a place? To know that you are in the right place?” She writes from a floodplain near sea level where, she notes, “winter is mud season,” but the fertility of the soil “is ranked within the top 2 percent in the world.”
An academic who understands both the biology and the beauty of the land upon which she lives and works, Gigot thoughtfully explores her ongoing journey into small-scale farming in the Pacific Northwest. Hers is a rare perspective, that of both poet and scientist. Her writing is welcoming and approachable, full of warmth and self-awareness.
In A Little Bit of Land, she effortlessly slips back and forth from describing the rhythms, challenges, and successes of small-farm life to the path she traveled to get there. While she reflects on finding her roots—from farm internships and failed relationships to higher education at a land-grant institution—she doesn’t romanticize her experiences. She does the heavy lifting in the pasture as well as in her own story and soul. She isn’t afraid to get down in the dirt.
As she comes of age, Gigot struggles to make connections and ponders her place among the animals and plants and people in the world. She is inspired by the writing of Wendell Berry, learns more about the importance of small-scale agriculture in sustainable food systems, and is among the first graduate students to live at the Olson Heritage Farm House at Washington State University’s Northwestern Washington Research and Extension Center in Mount Vernon.
After a stint in Oregon to start her doctoral degree, she feels called back to the Skagit Valley “like the scent of a riverbank to salmon that return to the same river every year.” It’s here that she eventually finds her sense of purpose and belonging.
Yet worries persist. Gigot grapples with “the paranoia that we’re just too small to succeed” and wonders, in reference to Berry, whether she is “an exploiter or a nurturer.” She writes, “Failure lurks around every corner: insect-ridden plants, a sick animal, the perpetually rising seed and feed costs.”
Her pragmatic, heartfelt account of entry into contemporary agrarian life is well focused, immersive, and compelling. Gigot provides a sincere and eloquent contemplation that reads quickly but will also give people pause. There’s much to consider in this slim volume. The importance of place. The meaning of home. The changing role and practices of the modern, female, small-scale farmer. The cultivation of contentedness. Finding footing. Family.
Her story offers inspiration and hope to other first-time farmers, particularly women, not only in Washington state but beyond the confines of the Pacific Northwest. Still, anyone with an interest in farming, locally grown and raised food, sustainable food systems, land stewardship, and the impact of land-grant universities would appreciate her testament, learning along as she does, “you own land, but you know it is not really yours,” and “pasture has its own grace.”