“Chris Blanchard,” the note read, “has left the building.” It went on to describe his love of Jimmy Buffett and purple shirts, of farming and his family, and said that he has passed at 4 am on October 28, 2018 in the presence of his family and loved ones. That’s how I, like most folks, found out that my old friend had died. The announcement tells us a lot about Chris—his iconoclasm, his aversion to easy sentiment, the enjoyment he would have taken in that opening line, and, of course, the farming—but there is so much more to how I remember him: I met Chris in the fall of 1991, when I was in my first year in the valley and he had just returned from his term away. He quickly became a mentor and then a friend. Chris was the guy who introduced me to the writings of Wendell Berry and Ed Abbey, the guy who opened my eyes to the possibility of farming as an avocation, the guy who waxed eloquent about growing hops and garlic, the guy who—when everybody else was quoting Horkheimer and Adorno—taped a quote to his wall that read, “Despite all our accomplishments, we owe our existence to a six inch layer of topsoil and the fact that it rains.”
When he left the valley, Chris invested himself fully in the organic farming community, running his own farm in the Driftless region of northeastern Iowa for a number of years and then transitioning to consultancy work. In recent years, Chris produced a podcast of interviews with small-scale growers around the country called Farmer to Farmer. It is fair to say that his podcast was a vital resource to organic growers throughout the country, especially young growers just starting in, and that this work was a completely fitting culmination of a life devoted to building the capacity of small-scale farmers to live balanced lives filled with hard work for a clear purpose, that purpose being building our communities and healing the planet. In my time in the valley, the student body spent a lot of time debating Nunn’s dichotomized vision of a life of service: the public servant versus the blacksmith with an abundance of heart. Chris was the most abundant of blacksmiths.
Chris was also irascible, contrarian. Probably even, it’s fair to say, a little gruff. But, though it borders on cliché, there was a huge heart beneath that shell. As his friend, I felt guided and taken care of in ways I rarely have since. Though the best stories to illustrate this aren’t fit for mass dissemination, it is safe to say that I have never been told to shut up in a more loving and supportive way. I miss him. I could go on, but all things considered, it’s probably best to end with some Wendell Berry, in this case an excerpt from his poem ‘Manifesto: The Mad Farmers Liberation Front’. I think Chris would approve. — Brendan Taaffe DS91
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.