September, and then October, slipped behind me and somehow I didn’t work it out to send a newsletter. I wrote one. In August. Actually, the words that follow are that very newsletter; but for some reason it never left the confines of my computer. As September came, Anton and I each took a few moments, a few weekends, to step back from the farm, to go out in the world and learn things and meet people and sleep uncomfortably in tents and see old friends and feel our connection with those beyond our immediate and local farming community, and remember that we were people other than farmers who participated in activites other than farming (kind of).
At the Draft Animal Annual Gathering in Massachusetts, one of the farmers and horse trainers said: “The horses are fostering community.”
The next weekend at the Mid-Atlantic Women’s Herbal Conference one of the teachers and herbalists said: “The plants are bringing people together.”
When I set these two ideas beside one another, our work seemed to fall into place amidst horses and plants: bringing people together to foster community.
The other day I read the words which we state in the opening of our webpage as one of the central missions of our farm: building “resilient community.” Anton wrote these words, or maybe it was our former farming partner Sarah, some years ago, and I have continuously read them, but never stopped to read them. But I did, and I got excited, about what that might mean, to me, to you, to us. Resilience.
Another CSA season is drawing to a close this week. An eventful, scary, terrible, beautiful, hard, sad, angry, educational, bountiful, delicious, experimental season, is drawing to a close. Though we have already said it: Thank You. We couldn’t have gotten here without you. The end always comes with sadness, gratitude, and relief. We’re so glad to find rest and restoration in winter, and will be so blessed to do it over again in 2015.
What follows is a mental exploration on our work as farmers. It came out of a certain restlessness not with our work itself, but with the role of the farmer in society at large. Of course through writing it, and through the dawning of fall, I am moving toward the rest I seek. Though my body always tries to reject the coming of cold: (my skin chaps, my hands lose sensation in the cold of morning, my shoulders and toes want to be bare in the sun, constant dehydration sets in), Autumn, and then Winter, comes like a great wave of relief to my inner self: root vegetables to ground me, herbs for health, books for the mind, friends and family for peace and well-being.
“I don’t think there is an argument for being a farmer. There are only two reasons to farm: because you have to, and because you love to. The ones who choose to farm choose for love. Necessity ends the argument, and so does love.”
-from Wendell Berry’s Hannah Coulter
Farming is always the question for me, and likewise always the answer to the question. The conversation goes something like this:
Nevertheless, the question does not dissipate or diminish within me, but stays always as a background to my work, my movement. In return, my movements answer, “yes, yes,” and I carry on, with relentlessness and ferocity and passion and joy—like an addiction, like a song, like a way—the only way I know—of healing self and world—with sadness, and necessity, and resignation, and awe—like a choice that I previously made and now must carry through to fruition, to the end of the season, and then, to the end of a lifetime. Like a thread I must sew with grace and tenderness, carrying my movements and the movements of my ancestors and yet unborn children to some sort of unnamed end (i.e. beginning).
While To Farm or Not To Farm is always the question for me, the mantra to my day, I also know it is never a choice to farm, it is simply who I am, and what I hope I will never get away from because I will never want to—because of love and necessity. Likewise it is never a choice to farm well, or to farm with horses, or to farm without chemicals, it is simply the only way I can imagine farming.
People often ask me why I farm: usually they mean, or I assume they mean: why do you want to work long, hard days doing smelly, demanding, dirty work for little pay? Why do you want to subject yourself and your livelihood to the whims of weather and climate? Why are you choosing to do the work of the unchosen?
A few years ago, I met a college kid while volunteering in downtown Baltimore. When he asked me my line of work, and I responded, “I’m a farmer,” he looked confused for a minute, skeptical, and then asked, hesitantly, “What’s a farmer?” I would like to believe that we have not yet moved so far into a removal of the human being from the earth that anyone can actually not know what a farmer is. I’ve read children’s books: I know that at least some romanticized and gender/ racially/ sexual-orientationally warped concept of farming is still presented to small children; this young, educated man knew what a farmer was. What he could not amalgamate and organize in his mind was his concept of Old MacDonald’s pigs saying “oink oink” here and there, and this young, blonde, female in downtown Baltimore who grew vegetables to feed human beings as a profession.
There are of course moments, or months, or seasons, after long-day followed by long-day, after still not getting everything done—or, rather, still feeling like I didn’t get enough done, after still not quite having the money to pay ourselves a living wage, the question of farming is like a resounding ache: Will we make it? Can we do this?
I’ve been thinking a lot about the New York Timess OpEd from August 9th entitled Don’t Let Your Children Grow Up to Be Farmers. The title is everything a title should be: fierce, fast, penetrating. Words that leave all of us who still eat food with a resounding ache. Author (and shellfish/ seaweed farmer) writes, “The dirty secret of the food movement is that the much-celebrated small-scale farmer isn’t making a living.” The author’s words repeatedly felt eerily, sickeningly, identical to many of the conversations and issues which occupy Anton and my minds and hearts in our toils: the price of land reflecting development pressure rather than its 'worth' as farm land, the dreaming of children being “cheaper than the real thing,” the need for off-farm work to supplement our farm income.
I have been wondering about these words, wondering if they are the whole story. There are moments, and then more moments, when I think, when I know: oh yeah, we’ll make it. Would I give up this work, these sensory inputs, this food, these moments, this community partnership, just to, as the author says, "make a living"? Of course, we are working toward the possibility of both, and we just might be able to get there.
The other half of the question of farming for me is the questions of successors, of the next generation, of carrying sustainability beyond my own reach, teaching the minds and hands of those who will carry this work beyond my capacity to do so, of looking at myself and others straight in the face and telling them: Let Your Children Become Farmers. The successors may be my children, and I believe often enough that they could be, or they may be my nieces and nephews, or the children of a friend, a neighbor, a CSA member, some lost being who happens upon the farm one day when we are getting old or slow or tired, and answers, out of love or necessity, yes.
When my five year old city-dwelling niece was visiting recently, she asked me why my partner and I were not having children. I told her we were “not ready”: that we were not financially stable. She suggested that she offer me some parenting advice, to better prepare us so that we would be “ready,” and I invited her to do so. She then went on to list off advice of how to care for my unborn children: Feed them when they’re hungry. Give them names when their born. Take them to gently-moving streams for them to walk in and play in. But the one I keep coming back to: If you’re still farming, teach your children how to farm.
In necessity, love, and resilience,
Lisa and Anton
We hope to see you in 2015. If you want to, Join Here.
Anton M. Shannon