I write this blog post from the snowy hills of suburban Connecticut– a place so fundamentally removed from Galena that I almost feel as though I am typing to you from beyond the grave. So, forgive me if I get a little weepy.
First and foremost, I am writing because I felt as though I still owed you blog readers a serious Thank You for being so responsive and encouraging over the last few months. Publishing oneself to the internet can feel a bit like throwing a manuscript over the side of a large abyss—and it’s enormously comforting/reassuring to know that one’s words made it through the ether to another living, breathing human being.
I was trying to think of a way to give something back as a thank you gift, some sort of advice or retrospective. I had even started drafting a “10 Lessons from a First Season of Farming,” which included such gems as “never use one hand where you could use two;” “it’s actually important to count your chickens;” and “when in doubt, eat the evidence.”
Alas, the list turned out to be neither prolific nor terribly insightful. And then this morning, as I was doing some reading over my cup of coffee, I realized that– though I had shared with you the recipes and small delights of a first season farmer– I have never told you what brought me to an organic farm in the first place—and, spoiler alert: it goes beyond my somewhat embarrassing devotion to kohlrabi.
So, here, here is the best gift that I can think to give to you: an essay written at the turn of this century by quite possibly the most articulate man in agriculture— activist, poet, novelist, and essayist Wendell Berry. With far more wit and intelligence than I could ever hope to muster, Berry clearly states the values, fears, and goals that I so fervently believe in that I sometimes make the mistake of assuming that everyone else shares them. It’s a beautiful piece of writing, and I like to revisit every time I need to renew my sense of purpose.
You should definitely read the whole essay if you can, but because I know that this is a busy season, I’ve outlined the gist of it for you.
Berry begins by lamenting to the tendency of single-issue movements to corrode, dissolve, and generally devolve into the very problems that they once sought to address. He then outlines his hopes for a movement that would both necessitate and be necessitated by a mass transition from conventional agriculture to smaller, organic, and sustainable forms of growing food.
He has three conditions: one, that we recognize the interconnectedness of the world and its problems. We “should begin,” he writes, “by giving up all hope and belief in piecemeal, one-shot solutions.”
Two, that we become responsible, mindful, and informed members of economies—that we realize that in spending money, we are supporting the practices and people that create the goods that we buy—or as Berry says, “Spend money with our friends and not our enemies.” And then he nails the whole thing right on the head when he writes, “In seeking to change our economic use of the world, we are seeking inescapably to change our lives.”
And three, he asks that the movement be democratically-driven and remain populist (“content itself to be poor” in his words) so that it will necessarily develop solutions that are inexpensive, practical, and viable for everyone.
And, for those that like a happy ending, I’ll add that the note that he ends on is cheerful.
Rereading the essay, I am reminded that ultimately, one does not farm for the vegetables: one farms for people; if done mindfully and with a sense of purpose, the proliferation of small scale organic farming lies at the heart of the change that I hope for this world.
It was something, actually, that you also reminded me of as I worked that last cold Friday pick-up on the farm a couple of weeks ago, surprised to find myself in the midst of many sad goodbyes. It can be lonely to be an urban transplant in a rural climate, but I was never less lonely than when I got to chat with all of you on Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings about the important things in life: things like which potato is the right potato for making oven-fries and why you really (yes, really) did want to take celeriac into your heart and home that day. Thank you for being so friendly and welcoming. If I had to do it all over again, I’d invite you over for dinner sometimes.
Have a wonderful and warm winter, everyone. You have a great resource in the farm and your fellow members. May you find and foster an abiding friendship, strength, and possibility in each other.