In moments of quiet exultation and near-absolute lucidity, the vision of what we seek to develop into as a farm organism shows itself to be remarkably clear; the dissolution of questions, impossibilities, logistics, financial practicalities, housing ambiguities, and infrastructure conundrums melt away, and what is left is a vibrancy of life, community, cooperation, resilience, food, and friendship. Within this place of absolute clarity and direction, there exists the correct ratio of animals to land to CSA members to budgets which assures the health and regeneration of each. Components of education, activism, and rich cultural and artistic expression surround us and inform our daily strivings. Our systems are efficient, and evolving, and the element of chaos which fuels the movement of the whole farm, and out of which the farm came, does not cease to arouse our senses and challenge our minds.
I stepped away from the farm to attend an agriculture workshop in mid-January that offered me one of these moments of lucidity; maybe you have experienced this too. You attend a workshop, retreat, conference, symposium, and you feel so damn alive the whole time, like everything just fell into place, and even if you go back home and it ends up that everything is as disastrously out-of-place as you might fear, you will have this memory to turn back to, and regenerate movement and clarity out of. New people, new ideas, this pulse of information and motivation and openness from all around, and you, in the midst of it, finally woke up to the awareness that the whole universe is present to support your breath and the stimulation of your mental function, just as it is for everyone else. And out of this place of open-hearted wonderment, the great ah-hah, you begin to plan, piece-by-piece, the next steps which you will take toward your own becoming, and the work which lies ahead. Oh, there is much to do.
In the daily tasks of winter, much less needs doing, but it takes so much longer to do it. Water for the horses involves digging for hoses in snow drifts, chipping through ice, thawing frozen hoses. Mucking stalls involves a daily re-paving of the snow as drifts have made piles anew into what was pleasantly packed down yesterday, and a slight unceasing discomfort in the low back which you didn’t remember existing in summer. Walking, unless you are a dog, involves a sort of stomping, pushing, trudging, and as often as not, imbalance. But, then, the space for these things to occur within lengthens to match how long they take, and the ability to be patient with one’s self is, might I say, luxurious.
I met an owl the other day for the first time in my life—I mean, a free and wild one. We shared a few moments in very close proximity to one another, her beauty so startling to me that I wondered what made me so worthy to face her this close.* And as we stood there, watching one another with great intensity, blinking, (I wondered if she had ever met a human before—a free and wild one— in such proximity), her blinks struck me as luxurious—eyes so disproportionately big and round that for lids to close and open takes an extra quarter, half, of a second.
And mucking horse manure in the winter is much like this, disproportionately elongated by the necessity of moving through that extra space of snow. There is so much time in which to think, slowly, about the luxury of the task at hand.
Manure is a precious gift from those herbaceous beasts who offer it to us for the fertilization of our farmscape and the growing of exceptional food. Farmers following the principles of Biodynamic Farming have worked toward a closed-loop farming system, where the farm aspires to a state of being what spiritual scientist Rudolf Steiner in 1924 called, “a self-contained individuality.” Steiner says, “A healthy farm would be one that could produce everything it needs from within itself.” This includes, most notably, manure, or compost. About a century later, in 2013, conventional scientists have noted what they call the “Home Field Advantage,” whereby site-specific manure positively affects soil-plant interactions and regulates plant Nitrogen availability.
There are probably many reasons, conventional and spiritual, why this might be true, and I don't really know what they are. Through the influence of Biodynamic thinkers, I have come to believe in the inherent knowledge of the ruminant and grass-eating species to deposit in their manures the nutrients most needed, and most able to be digested, by the land from which they graze, and onto which they fertilize. This “knowledge” is not an intellectual or conscious one, which is how we usually define and conceive of knowledge, but rather an experiential, bodily, and spiritual knowledge--the knowledge formed from that intimacy of grazing a field, night after night, nose, lips, tongue, and teeth smelling, deciphering, ingesting, and digesting the landscape. Have you ever watched a horse or cow (or sheep or goat or...) eat; I mean really sat and watched this event? I hope you'll find the time this summer to do so, when the grass is lush and those beasts just move over a bit of pasture--pushing grass and legumes in, and sending fertility out.
Manure—decomposed, aged, fermented, and applied to our fields— is the carrier through which we can bring nutrients to our plants, and then to the human and animal communities which come to our farm seeking nutrition, sustenance, and an authentic experience of the natural world.
As we bring new animal species to our farm this year, we will surely bring a new set of chaos—more moving pieces to juggle in our daily work, and into a human-influenced balanced ecosystem. But in doing so, we hope to continue the evolution of our farm organism—revitalizing the land on which our food is grown, in order to provide the most holistically nutritious and real food that we can offer.
In lucidity and luxury,
Lisa, Anton, Daisy, Duke, and Rocco
from The Host
by William Carlos Williams
There is nothing to eat,
Seek it where you will,
But the body of the Lord.
The blessed plants and the sea,
yield it to the imagination
A Rabbit Noticed My Condition
by St. John of the Cross
I was sad one day and went for a walk;
I sat in a field.
A rabbit noticed my condition and came near.
It often does not take more than that to help
at times--to just be close to creatures who
are so full of knowing, so full of love that they
don't chat, they just gaze with their marvelous
*I don’t know this owl was a female, this is merely an artistic choice I am making as a writer to call her as such.